The Canadian Movement Disorder Group

Tics / Tourette's Syndrome


A "Tic" is a stereotypic, repetitive movement, often in the past refereed to as a "habit spasm".  Tics occur in a variety of conditions, most of which fall in a spectrum between a simple tic disorder, and Tourette's Syndrome.

In adults and some children, a clear history of a urge preceding the movement, and relief after  the movement can be obtained. Also the movements can be suppressed (at the expense of inner stress or increasing discomfort) for variable lengths of time. It is not unusual for children  to inhibit or suppress the movements at school and then once home the tics "come out" in dramatic frequency. Although the movements can be suppressed they can't be stopped.

Simple Tic

Only a single body part is involved. These include eye blinks, shoulder shrugs, cheek twitches.

Complex Tics

These consist of tics involving a complex movement or series of movements often involving  more than one muscle group. One example would be jumping in the air and spinning around in the air.

Chronic Tic Disorder

By definition these last more than 6 months.

Multifocal Tic Disorder

Multiple simple and/or complex tics

Simple Vocal Tics

Brief noises including sniffing, grunting, throat clearing, coughing etc.

Complex Vocal Tics

These include more complex noises in the form of words (profanities), or phrases intruding into normal speech.


The repetition of what is heard 


The tendency to repeat phrases


Tourette's Syndrome

This by definition is a chronic multi-focal tic disorder, with vocalizations.

This most commonly starts at around age 6-10, progresses to often be most severe during puberty, and then stabilizes into adulthood. Exceptions to this typical pattern do occur.

Tourette's syndrome is frequently associated with an obsessive-compulsive trait. At times this feature can be more problematic than the movements. Obsessive behavior can include a  variety of habits, rituals, or patterns of behavior. Some examples include repeatedly checking if a locked door is locked, having to have things arranged in a specific order or pattern, having  to spend an excess of time at a task to ensure it is perfect, as anything less can create stress or anxiety.


This is a genetic (inherited) illness. It is autosomal dominant (1/2 of children will inherit the tendency) with variable penetrence (not all who get the gene get Tourette's).


There is no cure. Treatment is not always needed if the movements are mild, and not socially  distressing. If treatment is required the following medications are most often used.

To Control Movements

Clonidine, Clonazepam, Tetrabenazine, Pimozide, a variety of Neuroleptics, and Haldol

To control Obsessive traits

Chlormipramine, Prozac, and other SSRI's

Tic and Tourette's Resources