Foot Drop / Dropfoot

Foot Drop

Foot drop is a term used to describe difficulty lifting the front part of the foot. If you have foot drop, you may drag the front of your foot on the ground when you walk. Foot drop is also referred to as drop foot. Foot drop is not a disease, a sign of an underlying neurological, muscular, or anatomical problem. Foot drop can sometimes be temporary. If you do have foot drop, you may be required to wear a brace on your ankle and foot to hold your foot in a normal position.

Dropfoot Symptoms

Because foot drop makes it difficult to lift the front part of your foot, you might raise your thigh when you walk. You mimic climbing stairs (steppage gait), to help your foot clear the floor. This odd gait might cause you to slap your foot down onto the floor with each step you take. In some cases, this can cause the skin on the top of your foot and toes to go numb. Foot drop typically affects only one foot. Of course, depending on the underlying cause, it's possible for both feet to be affected. If your toes drag the floor when you walk, consult your doctor.

Dropfoot Causes

Foot drop is caused by weakness or paralysis of the muscles involved in lifting the front part of the foot. The underlying causes are varied and may include:

  • Nerve injury: One of the most common causes of foot drop is compression of a nerve in your leg that controls the muscles involved in lifting the foot. This nerve can also be injured during hip or knee replacement surgery. A pinched nerve in the spine can also cause foot drop. Diabetics are more susceptible to nerve disorders, which are associated with foot drop.
  • Muscle or nerve disorders: Various forms of muscular dystrophy may contribute to foot drop. Muscular dystrophy is an inherited disease that causes progressive muscle weakness. Other disorders, such as polio or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, can cause foot drop.
  • Brain and spinal cord disorders: Disorders that affect the spinal cord or brain (ALS, MS, or stroke) may cause foot drop.

What is foot slap?

Foot slap refers to the sound made when the affected foot hits the floor. The lack of muscle control causes the foot to smack down on the floor with each step.

Risk Factors

The peroneal nerve controls the muscles that lift your foot. This nerve runs near the surface of your skin on the side of your knee closest to your hand. Activities that compress this nerve can increase your risks. Examples include:

  • Crossing your legs: People who constantly cross their legs can compress the peroneal nerve on their uppermost leg.
  • Prolonged kneeling: Occupations that involve prolonged squatting or kneeling can result in foot drop.
  • Wearing a leg cast: Plaster casts that enclose the ankle and end just below the knee can exert pressure on the peroneal nerve.

Foot Drop Tests and Diagnosis

Foot Drop Tests and Diagnosis

Foot drop is usually diagnosed during an exam by a doctor, who will want to watch you walk. They may also check many your leg muscles for weakness. You may also be checked for numbness on your shin and on the top of your foot and toes. In some cases, additional testing is recommended.

Imaging tests

Foot drop is sometimes caused by an overgrowth of bone in the spinal canal or by a tumor or cyst pressing on the nerve in the knee or spine. Imaging tests can help pinpoint these types of problems.

  • X-rays: Normal X-rays use a low level of radiation to show a soft tissue mass or a bone lesion that may be causing your symptoms.
  • Ultrasound: This technology uses sound waves to create images of internal structures. It may be used to check for cysts or tumors that may be pressing on the nerve.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan combines X-ray images taken from many different angles to form cross-sectional views of structures within the body.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create a detailed image. MRI is very useful in visualizing soft tissue lesions that may be compressing a nerve.

Nerve Tests

Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies measure electrical activity in the muscles and nerves. These tests can be uncomfortable, but they're very useful in determining the location of the damage along the affected nerve.

Treatments and Drugs

Treatments and Drugs

The underlying cause of foot drop will determine your course of treatment. If the underlying cause is successfully treated, foot drop may improve or even disappear. If the underlying cause can't be treated, foot drop may be permanent. Specific treatment for foot drop may include:

  • Braces or splints: A brace on your ankle and foot or splint that fits into your shoe can help hold your foot in a normal position.
  • Physical therapy: Exercises that strengthen your leg muscles and help you maintain the range of motion in your knee and ankle may improve gait problems associated with foot drop. Stretching exercises are particularly important to prevent the development of stiffness in the heel.
  • Nerve stimulation: Sometimes stimulating the nerve that lifts the foot improves foot drop.
  • Surgery: Nerve surgery can be helpful if your foot drop is relatively new. It�€™s also dependent on the cause. If you have been suffering long term, your doctor may suggest a surgery that fuses ankle or foot bones. Another option is a procedure that transfers a functioning tendon to a different position.

Foot Drop Exercises

There are several different type of exercises normally performed with a physical therapist to improve a foot drop condition:

  • Ankle Dorsiflexion
  • Ankle Adduction/Abduction
  • Assisted Toe Raises
  • Negative Toe Raises
  • Heel Raises
  • Ankle Eversion
  • Ankle Inversion
  • Single Leg Stands
  • Hip Abduction/Adduction
  • Hip Rotation

Mayfair Foot Care has years of experience treating patients with foot drop conditions and has helped them lead happier, more comfortable lives.