You might occasionally think of yourself as “clumsy”
if you often bump into furniture or drop things. Clumsiness is defined as poor
coordination, movement, or action.
In healthy people, it can be a minor issue.
But, at the same time it can increase your risk for accidents or serious
injuries, like concussions.
A 2007 study assessed the visual and verbal
memory, processing speed, and reaction time of 1,500 college athletes. Athletes
with more injuries had significantly slower reaction time and processing speed.
They also didn’t perform as well on memory tests. This suggests that brain
function, from how information is processed to telling your body how to move,
plays a role in coordination.
Most people will have moments of clumsiness,
and it’s usually not anything to worry about. You may be able to improve on
your coordination with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), like building habits
to improve your brain’s processing, according to Psychology Today. This can
mean doing things with intention to increase awareness.
But if you have sudden, ongoing issues with
coordination, or if it seriously interferes with your health, it could be a
symptom of an underlying condition.
What causes sudden clumsiness?
A sudden onset of clumsiness can occur if
you’re distracted or unaware of your surroundings. But often, sudden issues
with coordination paired with another symptom can suggest a serious, underlying
A stroke occurs when a blood clot forms in
the brain and decreases blood flow. This deprives your brain of oxygen and
brain cells begin to die. During a stroke, some people experience paralysis or
muscle weakness, which can cause poor coordination and stumbling.
But sudden clumsiness doesn't always mean a
stroke. With a stroke, you’ll likely have other symptoms too. These include:
- slurred speech
- pins and needles sensations in
your arms or legs
- muscle weakness or numbness
You may see similar symptoms during a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or a “mini-stroke.” A TIA also reduces blood
flow to the brain. These attacks usually only last a few minutes and don’t
cause permanent brain damage.
However, see a doctor immediately if you or
someone you know is exhibiting symptoms of a stroke.
Some seizures can also cause symptoms that
look like sudden clumsiness. This is often the case with complex partial,
myoclonic, and atonic seizures, or drop attacks. Myoclonic and atonic seizures
cause someone to suddenly fall, as if they are tripping. This symptom is not
In complex partial seizures, there is a
pattern of actions and symptoms. A person will typically stare blankly while in
the middle of an activity. Then they will start doing a random activity like:
- fumbling or picking at their
- picking at objects
Complex partial seizures may only last a few
minutes, and the person will have no memory of what happened. The next time a
seizure occurs, the same actions will typically be repeated.
Visit a doctor immediately if you suspect you
or someone you know has had seizure or is experiencing one.
Anxiety and stress
Your nervous system, which controls muscle
movement, may function abnormally if you’re suddenly anxious or stressed. This
can cause your hands to shake or impair how you see your surroundings and do
your tasks. As a result, you’re more likely to bump into objects or people.
If you have anxiety, practicing your recovery
strategies may help you relax and improve issues with coordination.
Drugs and alcohol
If you drink too much alcohol or use illicit
drugs, you may also experience clumsiness due to intoxication. Intoxication,
which impairs brain function, usually involves one or two symptoms, which may
not always include uncoordinated movements.
Symptoms of intoxication might include:
- bloodshot eyes
- a change in behavior
- a strong smell of alcohol
- slurred speech
You may have difficulty maintaining your
balance or coordinating steps while trying to walk when intoxicated. This can
result in injuring yourself or getting a concussion if you fall. Withdrawal can
also cause clumsiness.
Clumsiness in adults
Ageing can go hand in hand with issues with
coordination. In a study of hand movements, results
showed that attention in older adults were most likely body-centered, meaning
they paid less attention to potential obstacles in their path.
Clumsiness can also begin as a subtle problem
and gradually worsen. If you or someone you know has ongoing issues with coordination
along with other symptoms, bring the problem to a doctor’s attention. There may
be an underlying neurological disorder.
A malignant or benign growth on the brain can
also affect balance and coordination. If you have a brain tumor, you may also experience
the following symptoms:
- unexplained nausea and vomiting
- vision problems
- personality or behavior changes
- hearing problems
- weakness or numbness
- strong headaches
A doctor can conduct an MRI or a brain scan
to check for growths on your brain.
Parkinson’s affects the central nervous
system and can impair motor systems. Early symptoms can be subtle, but may
include hand tremors or hand twitching that can cause issues with coordination.
Other signs and symptoms include:
- loss of smell
- trouble sleeping
- soft or low voice
- masked face, or blank stare
Your doctor will be able to recommend a
treatment and refer you to a specialist if they give you a diagnosis for
Alzheimer's slowly damages and kills brain
cells. Someone with Alzheimer’s often has difficulty with memory, has trouble completing
familiar tasks, and may have issues with coordination. The risk of Alzheimer's
increases after the age of 65.
If you or a loved one develops these symptoms
in middle age, and if they don’t improve, talk to a doctor.
Uncoordinated movements can also occur when
you're not getting enough sleep. Exhaustion can affect balance, causing you to
drop things. Or you may find yourself bumping into things. Getting at least
eight hours of sleep each night allows your brain and body to rest.
Health issues that affect joints and muscles,
such as arthritis, and medications such as anti-anxiety, antidepressants, and
anticonvulsant drugs can also cause similar symptoms.
Clumsiness in children
Trouble with coordination in children isn’t
unusual as toddlers learn how to stand and walk. Growth spurts can also
contribute as your child gets used to their growing body.
Children who have trouble paying attention
may also be more uncoordinated if they are less aware of their surroundings.
you feel your child’s clumsiness isn’t improving or is worsening, talk to your
doctor. Issues with coordination in children can also be caused by:
or lack of a foot arch
- attention deficit hyperactivity
- autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Your doctor will be able to provide treatment
options, depending on the cause.
Dyspraxia, or developmental coordination
disorder (DCD), is a condition that affects your child’s coordination. Children
with DCD usually have delayed physical coordination for their age. This isn’t
due to learning disabilities or a neurological disorder.
You can improve the symptoms of DCD by
practicing movements, breaking activities into smaller steps, or using tools
like special grips on pencils.
Clumsiness during pregnancy
As pregnancy progresses, your changing body
may throw off your center of gravity and affect your balance. There’s also a
greater risk of stumbling or bumping into things if you're unable to see your
feet. Other factors that can affect your coordination are changes in hormones,
fatigue, and forgetfulness.
Slowing down when moving, and asking for help
if you’ve dropped something, are good ways to avoid accidents or injuries
during a pregnancy.
CBT may be an effective treatment if you have
minor issues with coordination. For example, good sleeping habits can help. But
if you’re experiencing additional symptoms, make an appointment with your
doctor. There may be an underlying condition.
Diagnosing the exact cause of issues with
coordination can be difficult. This is a symptom of many conditions. For
example, uncoordinated movements and forgetfulness could be a sign of the
- Alzheimer’s disease
Your doctor will ask about your medical
history and other symptoms. They may also need to run several tests to help
diagnose the condition.
Improving coordination involves treating the
underlying condition. Your doctor may recommend medication, like an
anti-inflammatory medication for arthritis, or exercising more to reduce joint
pain and stiffness. You may also find it helpful to slow down and take in your
surroundings before performing certain tasks.