Most people have moments of clumsiness, and it’s usually nothing to worry about. But sudden, ongoing issues with coordination, or ones seriously interfering with your health, could be a symptom of an underlying condition.

You might think of yourself as clumsy if you often bump into furniture or drop things.

In healthy people, this can be a minor issue. But, at the same time, it can increase your risk for accidents or serious injuries, like concussions.

Read on to learn about clumsiness and its causes, as well as when to worry about a serious cause.

What is the meaning of Clumsiness?

Clumsiness is defined as poor coordination, movement, or action. Research shows that brain function, from information processing to telling your body how to move, plays a role in coordination.

A 2022 study suggests that aging strongly affects brain activity related to motor control. As we age, our brains become less efficient due to structural damage and decreased neurotransmitter levels.

This forces us to rely more on cognitive processes that are supported by the prefrontal cortex, a brain region highly vulnerable to aging.

There are cases, however, where such impact on the brain can occur not due to aging, but due to an underlying disorder, sometimes even in childhood. The following are a variety of things that can cause clumsiness both in adults and children.

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 health condition.


Every year, more than 795,000 Americanshave a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A stroke occurs when a blood clot forms in the brain and decreases blood flow (ischemic stroke) or when a weakened blood vessel bursts in your brain and decreases blood flow (hemorrhagic stroke). 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
  • headache
  • vertigo

You may see similar symptoms during a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or a ministroke. 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. Epilepsy is a common cause of seizures, affecting 1.2% of Americans. Learn about other causes of seizures.

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’re tripping. This symptom isn’t considered clumsiness.

In complex partial seizures, there’s a pattern of actions and symptoms. A person will typically stare blankly while in the middle of an activity. Then, they’ll start doing a random activity like:

  • mumbling
  • fumbling or picking at their clothing
  • 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 a seizure or is experiencing one.

Drugs and alcohol

If you drink too much alcohol or use 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
  • vomiting

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.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may cause clumsiness associated with disorientation, tremors, agitation, or seizures.

Aging can go hand in hand with issues with coordination.

However, 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. T

here may be an underlying disease or neurological disorder. This includes:

Brain tumor

A malignant (cancerous) or benign brain tumor can affect balance and coordination. Getting a cancerous tumor, which is the most concerning, is rare, with less than a 1% chance of developing it in your lifetime.

That said, you have any kind of brain tumor, you may also experience the following symptoms:

  • unexplained nausea and vomiting
  • vision problems
  • personality or behavior changes
  • hearing problems
  • seizures
  • weakness or numbness
  • strong headaches

A doctor can conduct an MRI or a brain scan to check for growth in your brain.

Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease affects the central nervous system and can impair motor systems. It affects nearly one million Americans.

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
  • constipation
  • 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 of Parkinson’s disease.

In some cases, Parkinson’s disease can cooccur with dyskinesia, which is another condition that can cause clumsiness due to problems with movement.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease slowly damages and kills brain cells. About 6.7 million Americans over the age of 65 are living with the disease, and the chance of developing it increases after that age.

Someone with Alzheimer’s disease often has difficulty with memory, has trouble completing familiar tasks, and may have issues with coordination.

If you or a loved one develops these symptoms in middle age, and if they don’t improve, talk to a doctor.

Other causes

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 8 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.

Additional causes of clumsiness related to a movement problem include:

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. If a child has a developmental delay, they may display some clumsiness in their gait or in their fine motor skills.

Children who have trouble paying attention may also be more uncoordinated if they’re less aware of their surroundings.

If 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:

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 neurological disorders. You can improve the symptoms of DCD by practicing movements, breaking activities into smaller steps, or using tools like special grips on pencils.

About 6% of school-aged children are thought to have DCD. Moreover, it can co-occur with ADHD, which may increase the child’s chance of having clumsy incidents.

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 pregnancy.

Diagnosing the exact cause of issues with coordination can be difficult. Clumsiness is a symptom of many conditions. If your coordination seems to worsen or additional symptoms appear, make an appointment with your doctor.

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and other symptoms. They may also need to run several tests to help diagnose the condition.

When should I be worried about clumsiness?

Occasional slips, trips, or spills happen to everyone. But see your doctor if your clumsiness lasts a long time or starts to negatively affect your day-to-day life.

What is an example of clumsiness?

Clumsiness usually refers to things like dropping something, spilling things or tripping. It can also refer to difficulty performing physical activities such as dancing or other sports.

Does anxiety cause clumsiness?

Anxiety can cause clumsiness. Affecting about 31.1% of Americans at some point in their lives, anxiety can cause your nervous system to function abnormally. For example, it can cause your hands to shake or impair how you see your surroundings and do tasks. As a result, you’re more likely to bump into objects or people.

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.