From yawns to Charley horses: 6 weird body quirks explained


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Sometimes our bodies do weird things we’d rather them not do — like when our eye twitches spastically in the middle of a job interview or when we get a mortifying case of the hiccups on a first date.

While we’re sure our anatomy has its reasons for its awkward and sometimes painful involuntary behaviors, those reasons aren’t always so clear to us when we’re desperately trying to eliminate them. To shed some light on these weird body quirks, we investigated the science behind them.  


1. Brain freezes

Perhaps the only downside to summer, brain freezes occur when we chug an ice-cold cup of water or heap an oversized spoonful of ice cream into our mouths on a hot day. The immediate and intense headache that follows is called sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia (aka brain freeze, ice-cream headache or cold-stimulus headache), and it has something to do with the combination of hot weather and that super-cold substance making contact with the roof of your mouth.

While the reason behind this reaction isn’t fully understood, an April 2012 study discovered a possible cause: Researchers found that the pain was associated with an intense and sudden rush of blood into an area of the brain called the anterior cerebral artery. When study participants drank warm water, the artery constricted and the pain dissipated. Those who suffer from periodic migraines are more susceptible to brain freezes.  


2. Charley horse

If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night with a shooting pain in your leg so intense that you want to scream, you’re familiar with the unpredictable muscle spasm colloquially known as a Charley horse. They usually attack in the leg, and afflict pregnant women and elderly people much more often than the rest of us.

A variety of causes are theorized to be behind these unexpected muscle contractions. Dehydration and vitamin and mineral deficiency are two hypotheses. Your body needs fluid and minerals like sodium, potassium and calcium to operate your muscles. When you’re deficient in those things, your body can’t function as well. This is why experts believe pregnant women suffer from them so frequently: Their babies are absorbing much of their calcium.

Charley horses can also result from overworking or injuring a muscle. Other possible causes include electrolyte imbalances; certain medications, such as antipsychotics and blood-pressure or diabetes drugs; and sitting in the same position for too long.  


3. Ear popping

You know the feeling: You’re swimming to the bottom of the deep end of the pool or trying to pass out on a long flight and your ears suddenly feel blocked. You proceed to make bizarre facial expressions or yawn to get them to “pop” and relieve the discomfort.

The air in your ear canal (i.e., the inside of your ear you can touch) needs to have the same amount of pressure as the air in the middle ear (i.e., an inner part of your ear you can’t see or touch). When there’s an imbalance, your ears feel blocked. When your ears pop, your ear’s Eustachian tube — which connects the middle ear’s air chamber to the throat — is either releasing air from, or letting air into, the middle ear in order to equalize the pressure. Since that tube is connected to your lungs, yawning — or blowing into your nose while its pinched close — can help.