Foot Drop | Causes & Symptoms
What Is Drop Foot?
Drop foot, or foot drop, is a symptom (rather than a disease) whose cause can be a number of things falling under three broad categories: neurological, anatomical or muscular disorders. Foot drop symptoms consist of an inability to lift the front part of the foot, which makes one drag it on the ground when walking. This condition can be temporary or permanent in nature, depending upon the underlying cause.
Foot Drop Symptoms
Those with drop foot typically assume a “steppage gait” that resembles the high knee bend one uses to climb stairs. When one lowers the foot, the front of it slaps the floor. Alternatively, some people with drop foot avoid dragging the front part of the foot with a wide, outward swing of the affected leg.
Another drop foot symptom is numbness at the top of the foot.
This condition is more common among males than females, and it does not favor any particular age group. Typically, drop foot is seen in just one foot, though some do experience bilateral foot drop, again depending upon the underlying cause.
Foot Drop Causes
Generally speaking, the causes of foot drop are weakness or paralysis of the muscles needed to lift the foot. More specifically, the condition is most often caused by compression of the peroneal nerve that controls the anterior tibialis, or the muscles that lift the foot. The peroneal nerve is located near the surface of the skin on the outer side of the knee:
Drop foot nerve damage can result from the following activities or conditions:
- Habitual leg crossing
- Long-term nerve damage from diabetes
- Sports injuries
- Hip/knee replacement surgery
- Kneeling or squatting for an extended period
- Wearing a leg cast
Other causes of foot drop are disorders of the muscles, nerves, spinal cord or brain, including:
- Forms of muscular dystrophy
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
- Amyotrophic lateral schlerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease)
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Cerebral palsy
The following video goes into more detail on drop foot causes, in addition to illustrating the condition’s symptoms:
Treatment for Foot Drop
Treatment for foot drop is dependent upon the underlying cause. If drop foot stems from a treatable condition, drop foot recovery will likely coincide with treatment of the underlying cause. But if the underlying cause cannot be treated, drop foot may be permanent.
In either case, drop foot braces and splints can be used to improve one’s gait over the long-term or during the healing process. These drop foot support products hold the foot in a normal position so that the toes do scuff or slap against the ground as one walks.
Drop Foot Exercises
Besides adding ankle/foot orthotics for foot drop, someone suffering from the condition may also benefit from physical therapy aimed at strengthening and stretching the muscles in the leg and maintaining the range of motion in the knee and ankle. (One should consult with a doctor regarding particular foot drop exercises as these can vary depending upon the underlying condition.)
Other treatment options (again, depending on what is causing foot drop) can include using a device to stimulate the affected nerve, though this is a rarely used remedy.
Drop Foot Surgery
Drop foot surgery is another treatment option. When the condition is a relatively new occurrence, surgery to repair drop foot nerve damage will likely be on the table.
For instances when the condition has been in place for an extended period of time, foot drop surgery may be considered. This can involve fusing the foot or ankle bones or transferring stronger tendons to the affected foot.