If you’ve recently been through a traumatic event that has left your body broken, you know the frustration. Those with foot drop struggle every day. Here’s what you need to know about the condition and current treatments that can help.
What Is Foot Drop?
Foot drop, or drop foot, is a general term for a physical condition where lifting the front part of your foot is more difficult than it should be. As a result, your foot drags on the ground when you walk.
Foot drop isn’t a disease. Rather, it’s a medical condition that’s usually caused by various physical injuries, or nerve damage. Sometimes, the condition is temporary. Other times, it’s permanent.
For some people, the condition is serious enough that it requires medical intervention. For others, it’s an annoyance which can be managed on a day to day basis, and over time it lessens or disappears completely.
Sometimes, it’s not obvious that there’s anything wrong. But, if you pay attention to symptoms, you can catch the condition and have it treated early, which might help in resolution.
Does your foot drag when you walk, or do you subconsciously drag your toes or do your toes touch the ground while walking? Do you scrape your toes, even slightly, while walking? Do you slap your toes uncontrollably against the ground?
Does it seem unusually difficult to get in or out of your vehicle or do you can trouble lifting your legs and getting sure footing when climbing stairs? Do you compensate for foot dragging?
If any of these symptoms fit, you might have foot drop.
The causes of foot drop are many. Your condition might be caused by nerve injury – this is the most common cause. Nerves in the leg are compressed, making it difficult to lift your foot properly. The nerve can also be injured during hip or knee replacement surgery.
A nerve root injury or “pinched nerve” in the spine might also cause foot drop.
People who have diabetes often suffer from this condition or are more susceptible to it.
Another common cause is accidents. Car accidents which cause a jarring motion or injure the legs might cause or indirectly contribute to the condition, as can falls, slips, or other injuries.
Muscle or nerve disorders can cause foot drop too. Various forms of muscular dystrophy, which is an inherited disease, might cause muscle weakness and foot drop. Other, less common, illnesses or disorders that can cause foot drop include polio or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
Brain and spinal cord disorders, like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis, or a stroke, may also result in foot drop.
Existing back injuries or conditions might also contribute to, or cause, foot drop. A tumor in the leg that’s gone undiagnosed can contribute to the problem. Adverse reactions to drugs or alcohol might also contribute to temporary foot drop.
Your fasting blood sugar will also be monitored, and your hemoglobin, nitrogen, and creatinine levels will be assessed and analyzed.
If anything comes up abnormal, these factors will be taken into account, along with physical symptoms. You might need to schedule multiple visits with your doctor to rule out other conditions and to set up a treatment plan.
A doctor must diagnose your condition by taking a patient history, studying the symptoms, and doing a physical exam. The doctor might do additional diagnostic tests like imaging studies, EKG, or a blood analysis for possible metabolic causes like diabetes, toxins, or alcohol.
The most common treatments today include lightweight braces which support the foot, shoe inserts, physical therapy, and surgery.
The Brace: Braces or splints are placed on your ankle and foot. These braces fit into your shoe and help you hold your foot in a normal position.
Physical Therapy: PT can be used to help strengthen your leg muscles and maintain range of motion in your knee and ankle. It can improve gait problems associated with foot drop. PT may also help you stretch your muscles and ligaments, making it easier to move your foot and prevent stiffness in the heel.
Nerve Stimulation: Nerve stimulation is sometimes helpful because it stimulates the nerve that lifts the foot, providing improvement in muscular control over the nerve that lifts the foot.
Surgery: Depending on the cause, nerve surgery might be helpful. If your condition is long-standing, your doctor might suggest surgery which fuses your ankle or foot bones together. Your doctor might also transfer a functioning tendon to a different position.
Michael Sawaya is the Managing Senior Partner with The Sawaya Law Firm. He is a Colorado native. He was born in Trinidad but moved to Denver when he was 3 years old. He attended the University of Colorado for his undergrad, and attended Texas Techs Law School, where he graduated with his law degree. In 1989 he began specializing in personal injury cases. He is a big advocate for the rights of individuals who have been injured because of the poor choices of others.