Foot drop, or drop foot, is characterized by difficulty lifting or moving the foot and toes. Typically, it affects one foot and can impact an individual’s walking pattern and gait.
Nerve damage or injury affecting the peroneal nerve, which runs down the leg and controls the muscles responsible for lifting the foot, is the primary cause of foot drop.
Various factors that can cause foot drop include:
- Sports injuries
- Slipped disc in the spine
- Prolonged leg positions like crossing legs, kneeling or squatting
- Nerve problems (peripheral neuropathy) due to diabetes
- Hip or knee replacement surgery
- Extended periods of immobility, such as during a hospital stay
While foot drop has the potential to improve spontaneously or with appropriate treatment, there are cases where it may become a permanent condition.
Less common causes of foot drop encompass:
- Inherited conditions such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
- Muscle weakness arises from conditions like muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, or motor neuron disease
- Damage spinal cord or the brain from a stroke, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, or multiple sclerosis
What happens during your visit to the doctor
During your appointment for a foot drop, the doctor will thoroughly examine your leg and foot and observe your walking pattern. Depending on the initial assessment, they may refer you to a professional for further diagnostic tests, including X-rays, ultrasound, or CT scans. These additional tests aim to determine the underlying cause of your foot drop.
The treatment for foot drops depends on the underlying cause and the duration of the condition. In some cases, foot drop can improve without intervention.
Standard treatment approaches include:
- Physiotherapy: This involves exercises to strengthen and stretch the muscles in the leg and foot.
- Braces, splints, or shoe inserts: These assistive devices help hold the foot in the correct position and provide support.
- Electrical nerve stimulation: In situations such as stroke or multiple sclerosis, a small device can be implanted in the body to use electrical signals and aid nerve function.
- Surgical intervention: If foot drop is permanent and movement loss persists, surgical options may include joint fusion of the ankle and foot or nerve repair or grafting.
Your healthcare provider will determine the choice of treatment based on the precise circumstances of your foot drop.
Things to do if you have foot drop
If you experience foot drop, there is an increased risk of tripping and falling. However, there are simple adjustments you can make to help mitigate this risk.
Consider the following measures:
- Utilize a walking aid, such as a stick, if needed
- Ensure the floors in your home are kept clear of obstacles
- Remove potential tripping hazards like loose rugs and electrical cables
- Maintain adequate lighting throughout your house
- Install handrails on stairs to provide additional support and stability
Reviewed by-Dr. Priyanka, MBBS MD
Page last reviewed: 12 June 2023