08 Aug Clumsy before your period? You’re not alone
BY GABRIELLE LICHTERMAN
- Key findings: Changes in balance and vision due to plunging estrogen can make you clumsier on the days before your period.
AUGUST 8, 2021—Chances are, this scenario sounds pretty familiar: You’re strolling through a room you’ve walked through a gazillion times before without a problem, then BLAMMO! You whack your knee into a table that’s been there forever. Or you stub your toe on a chair that hasn’t moved from the same spot since your grandmother was in diapers. Or you bump into a doorway that you’re convinced someone moved one inch to the left overnight as you slept.
If this sounds like you and you have a menstrual cycle, you were probably in your premenstrual Week 4 when you injured yourself. And the likely culprit behind your clumsiness was your hormones.
How do hormones make you clumsy?
In the six days before your period, your body’s level of estrogen drops steadily. And your level of progesterone is elevated.
This hormone combo affects two key factors that determine whether you stay steady on your feet or you end up tripping over them:
You get dizzier. A 2009 study in the Brazilian Journal of Otorhinolaryngology found that during your premenstrual week, your inner ear undergoes certain changes that can make it more difficult to maintain balance.1 Researchers aren’t sure why, but one reason may be due to fluid retention caused by elevated progesterone. As a result, you can experience dizziness or vertigo that makes you sway or lean rather than stay upright.
You see more slowly. Ever notice how the eye movements of someone who’s drunk seem to lag. Like their head moves, then their eyes catch up a little later? Well, a less pronounced version of this can happen during the second half of your cycle due to the sedating effects of progesterone and lousier sleep you get during your premenstrual phase, according to separate studies from the University of Cambridge in the U.K. and University Hospital of Umeå in Sweden.2,3 The result: You’re seeing the world around you–and all its furniture and other bruising obstacles–just a bit more slowly, making you notice that table, chair leg and doorframe a tad too late to miss them.
Simply knowing that you could be a little off your game during your premenstrual phase can help you overcome clumsiness. That’s because you can remind yourself to pay more attention to avoid mishaps and stumbles. Plus, you can avoid putting yourself in situations that would raise your risk of injury, for example, you might skip ankle-teetering high-heeled shoes and save the fire baton juggling for another cycle day.
Try these 4 balance-boosting tips
Researchers have discovered easy ways to lower your risk of trips, bumps and bruises by hacking your body’s internal balance system, reducing clumsiness. Here are 4 tips to try the next time your premenstrual phase rolls around:
Chew gum: When treading on slick or uneven surfaces (such as slippery leaves or crunchy snow), stick gum, a marshmallow or other chewy food in your mouth and start munching. You’ll be 77% steadier on your feet, lowering your risk of slips and falls, reports the journal Functional Neurology.4 Clenching jaw muscles activates the body’s system for maintaining balance, automatically making it easier to stay upright.
Wipe away “crumbs”: Before getting up from a chair or bed, pretend there are crumbs on your lap and gently wipe them away. Lightly touching your thighs improves balance as you rise from a seated position by relaxing muscles supporting your ankles so they can make micro-adjustments that keep you stable, according to research from Japan’s Kyushu Kyoritsu University.5
Or lightly tap: Touching the back of a chair, a tabletop and other surfaces with your fingertips as you pass by them while walking or as you’re standing improves coordination. A light touch transmits information from receptors in the skin, which activate muscles that maintain balance, found research teams from France and Italy.6,7
Turn on a fan: The refreshing breeze from a ceiling or portable fan isn’t just a fast way to feel more comfortable in the heat. Fans have an unexpected benefit on your balance, too. Turns out, the constant hum of white noise, like that caused by rotating fan blades, gives you brain sensory feedback that helps it orient your body more accurately as you move, found researchers from the University of California, Merced.8
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(1) Cintia Ishii, Lucia Kazuko Nishino, Carlos Alberto Herrerias de Campos, “Vestibular characterization in the menstrual cycle”, Brazilian Journal of Otorhinolaryngology, 75 (2009) 375-380
(2) Emma J. Brooker, “Changes in saccadic latencies over the human menstrual cycle”, Perceptual and Motor Skills, 96 (2003): 1197-1214
(3) Isabelle Sundström, Torbjörn Bäckström, “Patients with premenstrual syndrome have decreased saccadic eye velocity compared to control subjects”, Biological Psychiatry, 44 (1998): 755-764
(4) Ahmad H. Alghadir, Hamayun Zafar, Zaheen A. Iqbal, “Effect of three different jaw positions on postural stability during standing”, Functional Neurology, 30 (2015): 53-57
(5) Kazushige Oshita, Sumio Yano, “Effects of light finger touch to the upper legs on postural sway and muscle activity during quiet standing”, Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, 2013 (2013): 7459-7462
(6) Nicolas Vuillerme, Vincent Nougier, “Effect of light finger touch on postural sway after lower-limb muscular fatigue”, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 84 (2003): 1560-1563
(7) Mario Baccini, et al., “Effectiveness of fingertip light contact in reducing postural sway in older people”, Age and Ageing, 36 (2007): 30-35
(8) Jennifer M. Ross, et al., “Auditory white noise reduces age-related fluctuations in balance”, Neuroscience Letters, 630 (2016): 216-221
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