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Clumsy People, Rejoice! There's A Scientific Reason You're Such A Klutz

We all can all think of at least one friend who seems to stumble over everything and constantly injure him or herself.

I'm not talking about the occasional tumble up the stars, but the constant struggle of people tripping over their own feet and walking into walls on a daily basis.

Maybe you're that friend, in which case, it's a lot less funny.

But there's actually a reason certain people are so clumsy; some are just born to be accident prone, according to science.

Note: We aren't talking about the effects accidents or brain disorders have on motor control.

That kind of impairment is shattering and can hinder someone's ability to undergo simple daily tasks.

But for the ultimate klutz, there are reasons for the ankle rolling. Let us break it down for you.

Why are certain people so clumsy?

A 2007 University of Delaware study took a deep dive into answering that question by looking at ACL injuries among college athletes.

ACL injuries are very common (and often career-threatening) in sports, and in this case, researchers focused on “non-contact” ACL injuries, meaning those that happen by accident through a misstep or awkward landing, not through a collision with other players.

In fact, most ACL injuries (between 72 and 95 percent) happen through non-contact mechanisms.

The research team wanted to know why some athletes sustained these injuries while others didn't. So they looked at 1,500 student-athletes at 18 different universities during the preseason.

The subjects included male and female athletes who played football, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey, volleyball, wrestling, softball, fencing and gymnastics, and all underwent neurological and cognitive tests, according to the study.

For example, a color-matching test was administered to measure reaction times and processing speeds by telling athletes to click in a box when they saw the word “red” displayed in a red color, not if it appeared in blue, green or yellow.

Fast-forward to the season: 80 athletes sustained non-contact ACL injuries.

The team compared that 80 with 80 non-injured athletes who were selected based on matching criteria like gender, height, sport, position and collegiate level.

The results were clear. They found athletes who suffered from the injury had significantly slower reaction times and processing speeds, in addition to lower visual and verbal memory scores than those who were injury-free.

It makes sense, with non-contact ACL injuries being associated with errors in coordination, the study notes.

Charles “Buz” Swanik, the University of Delaware assistant professor who led the study, reaffirms the study's conclusion on UDaily:

These results suggest that slower processing speed and reaction time, as well as lower visual and verbal memory performance may predispose certain individuals to errors in coordination during physical activity that can lead to injury.

This means if you're a klutz, you were probably born with those tendencies.

While these are athletes, meaning they aren't obese or particularly uncoordinated, the cognitive and neurological tests focused on in the study are from the same drawing board for athletes and non-athletes.


So is there a cure?

What the study suggests is that what causes a moment of clumsiness is essentially a moment of distraction.

You consciously or unconsciously disrupt the conversation between your muscles and brain, which results in your body not doing what it is supposed to.

That equilibrium and balance system processing problem hinders a person's ability to create a plan for what's about to happen next, like stepping out of the way or paying attention to that street lamp, Jim Buskirk, a physical therapist and cofounder of the Dizziness and Balance Center in Chicago, tells Medical Daily.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the one-third of people more likely to have accidents than others, according to Today.

Because of the causes, accident-prone people can be cured through brain exercises that help minimize distractions, stress and anxiety to clear the path between your brain and rest of your body and encourage your brain to adapt, Swanik noties.

Savannah Guthrie of “The Today Show” demonstrated her klutziness on live television, failing every single one of the cognitive tests administered by Buskirk, who is also garnering attention toward mindfulness during physical activity.

He offered to “cure” her clumsiness through a personalized rehabilitative program that would take eight to 10 weeks.

But he's more concerned with people where clumsiness can put their lives in danger, like construction workers, not someone with a desk job.

For example, he's used techniques to improve eye-hand and eye-food coordination among the Chicago Wolves, a professional ice hockey team.

So, if you're looking to curb your clumsiness, before anything, make sure you've had your eyes checked, are sober when the tumbles occur and have adopted a regular exercise regimen to improve stability, strength and balance, according to WebMd, among other experts.

Then look into exercises to improve mindfulness and reduce anxiety, whether that's through a physical therapist or scouring the Internet.

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Zainab Mudallal

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Zainab is a news writer for Elite Daily, focusing on her personal passions of health, fitness and wellness. She has formerly written for Quartz, The Atlantic and National Geographic Magazine. She graduated from the University of Maryland after ...
Zainab is a news writer for Elite Daily, focusing on her personal passions of health, fitness and wellness. She has formerly written for Quartz, The Atlantic and National Geographic Magazine. She graduated from the University of Maryland after ...

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