Studies confirm exercise effective as tic treatment

Is exercise the anti-tic medicine we don’t take enough of? Studies confirm certain exercises help tics go away.

Boy-weightsIn 2005, Drs. Leckman & Swain published a comprehensive work on TS called Tourette Syndrome & Tic Disorders: A Practical Guide to Diagnosis & Treatment. On the question of treatment, they noted that no ideal anti-tic treatment exists. Instead, challenging tics are best tackled with a multi-pronged approach that may include education, behavioral therapy, and prescription medication. Drs. Leckman & Swain mentioned diet and lifestyle, briefly acknowledging that while exercise is generally beneficial, its effects on tics are not well-studied and therefore not well understood.

Fast-forward six years to 2011: A case report detailing the use of physical exercise to treat TS, poor motor function, and pain in a 12-year-old boy is published in the Chang Gung Medical Journal. The article describes a young boy struggling with poor health for a number of reasons. He is overweight. He is having a hard time doing activities he enjoys due to pain and tightness. His mother is concerned about the negative impact of his tics on his daily life. Health-care professionals prescribe exercise and fitness training.

Once a week for three months, the boy completes a two-hour fitness session of running, stretching, muscle strengthening, balance training, and upper-body coordination exercises. The results are very positive: reduced pain, increased flexibility, improved balance, and better writing skills. On top of that, the boys’ doctors note that their patient unexpectedly “had a reduction in the severity of his tics without taking anti-tic medication” (7).

Before concluding that exercise acts as anti-tic medication, there are a few important points to consider.

In the case of the young boy, his physicians stressed that they didn’t simply prescribe exercise in general. They treated their patient with “individualized therapeutic exercises” that targeted his specific health challenges. Also, this was only one documented success story, and a single case of improvement does not a tried and true treatment approach make.

Fast-forward another three years to April 2014: Behaviour Modification publishes a Nottingham UK study about the impact of exercise on 18 young people with TS. The study compares the frequency of tics before, during and after exercise sessions, and finds significant reduction in the subjects tics both during and after physical activity. In addition, the participants experienced improvements in anxiety and mood.

With this kind of evidence, it seems reasonable to conclude that exercise is a promising form of tic treatment. If this is the case, the issue of lack of exercise, whether due to not having the time, money or motivation to exercise regularly, becomes an even bigger problem.

Consider the stats. Statistics Canada’s Canadian Health Measures Survey found that two-thirds of adults and one-quarter of children are overweight or obese, representing a significant increase since the 1980s.

Not surprisingly, as Canadians have become heavier over the past 25 years, we’ve also become much less physically active. Stats Can also reported that a whopping half of all Canadians (48%) aged 12 or older were inactive—defined as less than half an hour of walking per day—during their leisure time. It begs the question: if exercise is so good for us, why aren’t we doing more of it?

Do you find that exercise helps with either your TS or the TS of someone you know? What type of exercises do you find work best? Let us know in the comments below.


Swain, James E. and Leckman, James F.  Tourette Syndrome and Tic Disorders Overview and Practical Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment.  Psychiatry (Edgmont). Jul 2005; 2(7): 26–36.

Wen-Yu Liu et al.  Health-related Physical Fitness Management for a Child with Tourette Syndrome. Chang Gung Med J Vol. 34 No. 6 (Suppl) 2012, 4-9.

Nixon et al. Reduced Tic Symptomatology in Tourette Syndrome After an Acute Bout of Exercise: An ObservationalStudy Behav Modif  April: 2014.

Statistics Canada, “Fitness of Canadian adults: Results from the 2007-2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey“, and “Fitness of Canadian children and youth: Results from the 2007-2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey“, part of Health Reports, Vol. 21, no. 1 (82-003-X, free), http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/100113/dq100113a-eng.htmhttp://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2006008/article/phys/10307-eng.htm.

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