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Foot Drop

Foot drop also known as drop foot, is a sign of an underlying muscular, neurological or anatomical condition, where you are unable to lift the front part of your foot, resulting in foot dragging. To avoid dragging your foot, you may lift your knee higher than usual as if you were climbing stairs or swing your leg in a wide arc, causing you to slap your foot on the ground every time you step forward. Foot drop may also produce numbness. It can affect one or both feet and may be temporary or permanent.

Foot drop is caused by weakness or paralysis of the muscles of the foot. Damage or compression of the nerve that supplies the foot muscles, or diseases of the muscles or nerves (muscular dystrophy and polio), brain or spinal cord (stroke and multiple sclerosis) may lead to foot drop.

Diagnosis is usually made by a physical examination for numbness and abnormal gait. Imaging studies may be ordered to identify any anatomic abnormalities such as overgrowths of bone or tumors that may be compressing the nerve. Nerve tests including electromyography and nerve conduction studies may be performed to examine the affected nerve and locate the area of damage.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Your doctor may suggest orthotics such as braces (AFO), splints and shoe inserts. Physical therapy may be ordered to strengthen the foot muscles, and improve range of motion and gait. Nerve stimulation may also be recommended. Your doctor may suggest surgery to repair the decompressed or damaged nerve. Successful identification and treatment of the underlying cause is essential to determine if the foot drop can improve. Chances of recovery are better with early intervention. Tendon transfers are an option for some patient who do not tolerate bracing, but are only done when the foot drop is permanent.

Affiliations

  • Texas Orthopedic Hospital
  • Joe W. King Orthopedic Institute
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery