3 Red Flags Your Clumsiness Is A Sign Of A Bigger Issue

If you’re one of those people who never seems to trip over your own two feet, bump into furniture or break your favorite drinking glass, consider yourself lucky. Many of us identify with being at least a little clumsy, and generally, it’s something to laugh about. 

Sometimes, however, clumsiness can be a sign of a bigger issue than just needing a bandage or waiting for a bruise to heal. It can be indicative of a larger issue related to our brains.

“There are a variety of medical problems that can lead to clumsiness, including general medical conditions, hormonal dysfunction, visual problems and neurological disorders,” said Dr. Alessandro Di Rocco, the director of neurology, Parkinson’s and movement disorders at Northwell Health.

“Among the more common neurological problems are ‘mini-strokes,’ due to occlusion of small blood vessels in the brain, neurodegenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, which develop frequently in older individuals, or other neurological disorders, including accumulation of fluid in the brain (hydrocephalus), inflammation and peripheral nerve disease (neuropathy),” Di Rocco added.

Before you panic and turn to Google for more information (please don’t), we consulted doctors who specialize in brain health to find out the specific clumsiness-related signs you may need to see a doctor about for further evaluation. Here’s what they had to say:

1. You’re having more frequent accidents or injuries.

Neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez said that, from a medical standpoint, it’s important to consider that a certain degree of clumsiness is typical.

“The average person may have moments of clumsiness, which can include knocking over objects or spilling a drink, but it’s usually nothing to worry about,” Hafeez said, noting that sometimes clumsiness can be a side effect of anxiety.

However, a sign that your clumsiness isn’t normal is a sudden increase in accidents or injuries, she said. So if you notice you’re falling often or getting into minor accidents, it can be a good idea to see a doctor to get to the root of what’s going on. 

2. Functions you normally have no issue with become difficult.

When functions we normally have no problem executing become difficult or impaired, clumsiness may be a sign of a larger medical problem, Di Rocco said.

“For instance, even an individual who has never been too dexterous with manual tasks may start dropping objects, having difficulty typing or walking, or start falling more,” he explained.

3. Your clumsiness feels new and jarring.

For a lot of us, a little bit of clumsiness is part of our daily lives. But it could be a sign that your clumsiness isn’t normal if you find yourself thinking, “Why can’t I keep my balance?” or “Why do I keep dropping my phone?”

“Normal clumsiness is something you have always had since childhood,” said Dr. Amparo Gutierrez, a neurologist with the Orlando Health Neuroscience Institute. “New clumsiness that develops over hours or days is abnormal, and medical advice should be sought.”

Di Rocco also underscored this.

“Changes in dexterity or an awareness of becoming clumsy should prompt a medical evaluation, especially if the clumsiness is persistent and not occasional,” he said.

Increased injuries and accidents from clumsiness are signs that you should speak with your doctor.
Increased injuries and accidents from clumsiness are signs that you should speak with your doctor. Charday Penn via Getty Images

Increased clumsiness isn’t always serious, but you should get checked out to be sure.

While a sudden acceleration in clumsiness could be a sign of a serious health issue, there can also be other explanations with simpler fixes.

“An increase in clumsiness could be attributed to deficiencies in vitamins or minerals like vitamin B12 or magnesium,” Hafeez said.

It’s also possible that a new medication is causing clumsiness, in which case you can speak to your doctor about adjusting your dose or trying something else. 

An increase in clumsiness can also be a normal part of the aging process, according to Di Rocco.

“What is normal function or clumsiness at age 30 is very different than at age 70,” he said.

For example, people tend to have more trouble with balance as they age and may fall more frequently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything serious going on with their brain.

With all that in mind, if you’re worried about an uptick in clumsiness, it’s always a good idea to speak with a health professional.

“If you notice persistent clumsiness that interferes with your daily activities or seems to be worsening over time, it’s a good idea to see a doctor,” Hafeez said. “If clumsiness is accompanied by other symptoms such as a severe headache, weakness or numbness on one side of the body, difficulty speaking, confusion, vision changes, dizziness or loss of balance, see a doctor immediately.” 

Clumsiness is a normal part of being human. But if it starts to interfere with your daily life or you notice an abrupt change in your motor skills, be sure to speak with a medical provider as soon as possible.