The eye muscles are a complex muscular system, allowing human beings to have an incredible range of eye movement and supporting us to focus on objects near and far. Understanding the eye muscles and how they work together to support our vision is essential to maintaining a high level of eye health. Many individuals have experienced fatigue around their eyes, eye muscle spasm or twitching, and/or dry eyes, which can all be caused by strain in the muscles around the eye. If you’ve ever had an eye muscle spasm or just experienced strain in the muscles around the eye, read on. This article will examine the anatomy of eye muscles and provide the information necessary to ensure you are seeing clearly and comfortably for years to come.

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Eye Muscles

There are seven extrinsic eye muscles that come in two groups, separated by function. There are the muscles that control the movements of the eyeball and muscles that dictate the movements of the eyelid. The muscles of the eyeball are called the recti and oblique muscles, and the muscle that is responsible for eyelid movement is called the Levator palpebrae superioris, or LPS. The LPS is made up of a collection of smooth muscle fibers and is connected to the sympathetic nervous system. That’s why you do not have to think about blinking–your nervous system takes care of it for you.

Muscles of the Eyeball

The second group of eye muscles, the recti and oblique muscles, encompass the remainder of the eye muscles. Six distinct muscles are responsible for the movement of your eyeball. They surround the eyeball, attaching to the sclera, or the white of your eye, encircling the eyeball. From their positions around the eyeball, these muscles connect back to the common tendinous ring. This is a ring of tissue that connects to the optic canal.

The word recti comes from the Latin rectus, which means straight. There are four muscles in the recti group, the superior rectus, the inferior rectus, the medial rectus, and the lateral rectus. They take the following positions around the eyeball:eye muscles

Superior Rectus – Located at the top of the eyeball, responsible for lifting the eye

Inferior Rectus – Located at the bottom of the eyeball, responsible for lowering the eye

Lateral Rectus – Located on the far side of the eyeball relative to the nose, responsible for moving the eye away from the nose

Medial Rectus – Located on the side of the eyeball closer to the nose, responsible for moving eye toward the nose

There are two more muscles that assist with eye movement, the obliques. Unlike the recti group, these muscles don’t connect to the tendinous ring. Instead, they connect to the sphenoid bone, near the bridge of the nose. These muscles are called obliques because instead of being attached to the eyeball in a straight line, the way the recti muscles are, the obliques are angularly attached. The muscles are as follows:

Superior Oblique – Located around the back of the superior rectus muscle, responsible for lowering, abducting, and medially rotating the eye

Inferior Oblique – Located around the back of the inferior rectus muscle, responsible for raising, abducting, and laterally rotating the eyeball

Additional Eye Muscles

In addition to the extrinsic eye muscles, there are four types of intrinsic eye muscles within the eyeball itself that are directed by the autonomic nervous system. Meaning, we do not consciously control the muscles that regulate our vision. These muscles are all smooth muscles that make it possible for your eye to function properly and provide you with proper vision. The first muscle is found in the iris. It contracts or expands the pupils according to the amount of light that the eye is being exposed to. The second group of smooth muscles are arteries that regulate the intake of oxygen by the eye. Another group of smooth muscles are veins that regulate blood flow to and from the eye, ensuring the proper amount of intraocular pressure. The final smooth muscle within the eye is called the ciliary muscle, which controls our ability to focus.

Eye Muscle Spasmextrinsic eye muscles

One of the most irritating eye conditions that can arise is twitching or spasming eye muscles. Eye spasms can last for just a few moments or may continue for weeks. Eye muscle spasms can occur in one eye or both, in the upper or lower eyelid. The technical name for the condition is blepharospasm. It normally occurs every few seconds and can last for minutes on end. Spasms can occur over periods of days or even weeks. In severe cases, the eye muscle spasm can cause the eye to shut close until the spasm is finished, but this is not normally the case.

A wide variety of triggers can spontaneously cause an eye twitch. But, many times, the exact cause cannot be determined. The reality is, the exact cause of spontaneous and short-lived eye spasms is often not entirely known. If you are suffering from the condition, consider the gamut of environmental and behavioral triggers that may be contributing to the condition, so you take the steps needed to stop the spasms.

Diet is one of the first areas to examine if you are experiencing a persistent eye twitch.

According to the latest research, alcohol intake increases the likelihood of a twitch. Indulging in excessive quantities of caffeine or other nervous system stimulants could also be contributing to the spasm. Tobacco consumption has also been linked to the twitch. Removing all three of those from your diet is a first step many doctors suggest if you’ve been suffering from an eye muscle spasm.

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Other Risk Factors

If eliminating those substances does not decrease your eye muscle spasm, there are other areas of your life to examine. Studies have proven that a good night’s sleep can dramatically reduce the occurrence of eye muscle spasms. Stress is another known contributor to eye twitches. This is intuitively understood by the culture, demonstrated by the depictions of overly stressed individuals guzzling coffee and having their eyes seemingly “popping out of their heads”. Doing what you can to eliminate stress factors in your life and actively taking time out of your schedule to relax and recharge could relieve symptoms of an eye muscle spasm–and of course add other great benefits to your well-being!

Computer Vision Syndrome

In the digital age, individuals have recognized that spending too much time looking at computer and other digital screens can increase eye strain. Eye problems caused by this overuse of computer screens is called computer vision syndrome, or CVS. The syndrome includes symptoms of pain or strain in the muscles around the eye as well as the muscles within the eyeball.

Why do computer screens strain our eyes? The answer is related to the same reasons Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can occur–repetitive motion. When we work at a computer, our eyes follow the same pathways again and again. This means your eye muscles have to work overtime, constantly focusing and refocusing as you move your eye. The fact that backlit screens flicker and glare increases the strain on your eye muscles.

Related Article: Protect Eyes From Computer Screen Eye Strain

If you already have vision issues or are over 40, these problems can compound. As you age, your lenses lose their elasticity and it becomes more difficult for you to focus. Add that to spending 6-8 hours a day staring at a screen and you can end up with some pretty gnarly symptoms. Individuals who suffer from computer vision syndrome report issues like blurred vision, double vision, eye irritation, and even headaches and neck/back pain.

Blinking is also an issue when we stare at a screen for too long. Under normal conditions, human beings blink about 18 times a minute. But some studies have shown that when individuals are on the screen, blinking decreases up to 50%! This is another reason why our eyes can become so irritated when we stare at screens for too long, since blinking is essential to moisturizing the eye.

Relieving the Muscles Around the Eyeeye muscle spasm

So, what can we do if we find ourselves suffering from eye muscle strain? There are a variety of options, depending on the severity of your symptoms and what you think the cause of your eye strain is. If you are pretty certain prolonged computer time is fatiguing the muscles around the eye, some simple fixes can really help. For one, make sure you limit the glare on your computer screen as much as possible. If you’re in an office setting, ask for new lighting or the chance to rearrange your desk so that the glare on your screen is as limited as possible.

While you are rearranging the desk, make sure your computer is in the correct position to support the muscles around your eye. The best distance between your computer screen and your eyeballs is approximately 20-28 inches. The screen should also be slightly below eye level. Finally, follow the 20-20-20 rule to give your eye muscles regular breaks. Every 20 minutes look away from your computer screen and focus on something about 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This will give your interior eye muscles some much needed rest–and could even boost your productivity.

Another way to reduce the strain on your eye muscles is to adjust the settings on your computer screen. You can change the display settings to the level of brightness that aligns with the lighting in your office or workspace. That way you can minimize strain on your eyes while you type. Additionally, put up a post-it note that says “blink” somewhere in your office where you can easily see it. That will ensure that you don’t decrease your blinking while staring at the screen.

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Home Remedies for Eye Strain

Even if you have done all of the preventive measures to reduce your eye strain or eye spasms, most individuals will suffer from fatigue in the muscles of the eyeball at one point or another. If this has happened to you, there are some convenient ways to relieve tired eye muscles and help you get back to normal.

To start with, find an eye lubricant that works well for you. There are a wide variety of products on the market that can help you relieve your dry eyes. Often dry eyes become irritated eyes so if you can keep your eyes moisturized you can relieve a lot of the pain and discomfort that comes from eye fatigue.

Another great home remedy for eye strain is applying warm compresses to the eye. Heat water on the stove or in the microwave and then dip a washcloth in it and put it over your eyes. This can calm and soothe tired eyes. A dash of calming essential oil like lavender or jasmine can add a special boost!

When to See A Doctor

While most occasions of tired eye muscles or strained muscles of the eyeball are not cause for serious concern, there are times when it is a good idea to see a medical professional. If you have extended eye spasms, see a sudden change in your vision, or have nausea or vomiting associated with your symptoms, it’s a good idea to get it checked out. Swelling around your eyes or seeing halos around lights are also big warning signs. If any of those symptoms occur, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your eye doctor.

Understanding Eye Muscles

Our eyes are some of the most incredible and powerful organs in our entire body, and their ability to function plays a major role in our lives. Understanding how eye muscles work and how you can improve your eye health is a great way to improve your overall quality of life. When you suffer from eye strain or eye spasms, it can be frustrating and reduce your productivity. That’s why it’s so important to pinpoint the cause of your eye strain and find the activities and products that can support your full recovery.

Dr. Barry

Dr. Barry

November 5, 2018