Have you ever known someone with two left feet? They can’t seem to walk through the bedroom without tripping on the rug, stepping on the dog’s tail and then bumping into the dresser and knocking everything over? Everyone can be a little clumsy at times, but it seems some are more accident prone than others. But have you ever wondered why that is? What makes people clumsy?
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Clumsiness is defined as poor coordination, movement or action. Although it’s a minor issue in healthy individuals, it can increase your risks for accidents and serious injuries, such as falling, hitting your head and causing a concussion. Or, if you have sudden, ongoing issues with coordination, it could be a symptom of an underlying condition.
A scientific study from 2009 relating to motor control and age-related brain differences revealed evidence that there can be complications with the nervous and neuromuscular systems that contribute to motor performance difficulties in older adults, which confirms that brain function plays a large role in coordination.
So, should you be worried that your clumsiness might be hinting at a more serious underlying health condition? Or, can your clumsiness be fixed with just a few quick suggestions? Let’s find out.
Health Conditions & Clumsiness
Have you always felt like objects around the room seem to get in your way? Has this been a recent onset occurrence or something you’ve been dealing with your whole life? Depending on the severity of the situation, you could be facing a mild to severe health condition:
Stroke: Occurring when a blood clot forms in the brain and decreases blood flow or when a weakened blood vessel bursts in your brain and decreases blood flow, depriving your brain of oxygen and brain cells begin to die. When someone is experiencing a stroke, they may feel paralysis or muscle weakness, causing poor coordination and stumbling. Other symptoms that occur with a stroke include slurred speech, pins and needles sensations in your arms or legs, muscle weakness or numbness, headache and vertigo. A stroke could be a life threatening condition and you should see a doctor immediately.
Seizures: In the case of complex partial, myoclonic, and atonic seizures or drop attacks, some seizures can also cause symptoms that look like sudden clumsiness.
Anxiety and Stress: If you're anxious or stressed, your nervous system may function abnormally, which can cause your hands to shake or impair how you see your surroundings and accomplish tasks. This can cause you to bump into objects or people around you.
Drugs and Alcohol: When you drink too much alcohol or use drugs, you can experience clumsiness due to intoxication, which impairs brain function and can cause uncoordinated movements. Other symptoms of intoxication include bloodshot eyes, a change in behavior, a strong smell of alcohol, slurred speech or vomiting. You may have difficulty maintaining your balance or coordinating steps while trying to walk when intoxicated, which can result in injuring yourself or getting a concussion if you fall. Withdrawal can also cause clumsiness.
Aging Adults: Aging, as you would expect, goes hand in hand with issues such as coordination. Scientific studies have shown that hand movements are different among younger and older adults as they use different mental representations of the space around their bodies. Younger adults tend to focus their reference frame on the hand while older adults use a reference frame centered on their whole body, which can affect how older adults plan and guide their movements. As adults continue to age and clumsiness worsens, it can become hazardous or could be the start of an underlying neurological disorder and should be addressed by a doctor.
Brain Tumor: Having a malignant or benign growth on the brain can also affect balance and coordination. Other symptoms of a brain tumor include unexplained nausea and vomiting, vision problems, personality or behavior changes, hearing problems, seizures, weakness or numbness and strong headaches. Consult with a doctor to conduct an MRI or brain scan to check for growths on your brain.
Parkinson’s Disease: Affecting the central nervous system, Parkinson’s disease can impair the motor system and can go hand in hand with causing issues with coordination. Other symptoms of this disease include loss of smell, trouble sleeping, constipation, soft or low voice or masked face or blank stare.
Alzheimer’s Disease: This disease slowly damages and kills brain cells, which could mean that someone experiencing this disease could have difficulty with memory, completing familiar tasks, as well as have issues with coordination. The risk of Alzheimer’s disease increases after the age of 65.
Dyspraxia: Dyspraxia, also known as developmental coordination disorder (DSD), is a condition that affects a child’s coordination. Children with DCD typically will see a delayed physical coordination for their age, which isn’t due to learning disabilities or a neurological disorder. The good news is that you can improve symptoms of DCD by practicing movements, breaking activities into smaller steps or using tools like special grips on pencils.
A sudden sign of clumsiness, although should be checked out by a physician or medical professional, doesn’t always mean it’s a serious medical matter. Other reasons that you could see a sudden onset of bad coordination could be that you are pregnant, possibly not getting enough sleep or are taking medications that could cause similar symptoms. Sometimes children can also go through spurts of trouble with coordination, which isn’t’ unusual when they are learning how to stand or walk, and growth spurts can also contribute to these uncoordinated movements.
So, although clumsiness can be inconvenient and even dangerous at times, it doesn’t always mean that it’s a life threatening condition that you’re facing. Sometimes, it might be something that you can even control on our own.
How to Resolve Clumsiness
Many times, when you’re getting too little sleep and under too much stress it can throw you off balance. However, there may be steps you can take towards working on this and helping you become less clumsy:
Take a breather, get some rest: There’s always good and bad stress, but the bad stress can throw us off balance and create unnecessary panic that we don’t need in our lives. Recognize your body signals to know when you’re experiencing too much stress and try to clear your mind or do whatever you need to de-stress. Getting too little sleep can make us groggy and less efficient, which can also cause us to loose focus on everything around us.
Train your brain and your core: Researchers believe that people with not-so-great memories and slower reaction times and processing speeds tend to have more coordination issues. Fortunately, you can work on “brain games” that are designed to improve memory and reaction time. It’s also a good idea to get exercise and strengthen your core, which can help prevent injuries.
Think ahead: If you’re feeling especially clumsy, make an effort to be extra-aware of your surroundings and actions.
Be patient and don’t over do it: Do one thing at a time. Try not to multitask when you’re not feeling your best or you are in a rush. It’s also a good idea to be patient when you’re trying something new. Clumsiness is often the result of diving into a brand new activity too quickly.
Although improving your coordination may be tricky, there’s always a way that it can be done. However, if you think your clumsiness is the result of a more serious, underlying medical condition, you should consult with your doctor. Your doctor may recommend medications such as anti-inflammatory medication or exercising more to reduce joint pain and stiffness.
You may also find it helpful, however, to just take a minute to slow down and take in your surroundings. It might help prevent a trip to the emergency room, and in the end, help you and the people around you stay safer.