Foot drop, also commonly referred to as drop foot, is a condition in which the muscles that lift the foot become weak or paralyzed. As a result, the foot may drag while walking. Foot drop isn’t a disease in itself; instead, it can develop as a result of preexisting medical conditions. Learn more about what causes the symptom and how it can be treated below.

What Are the Characteristics of Foot Drop?

Because foot drop causes the front toes to drag, it often leads individuals with the condition to overcorrect their gait to avoid tripping or discomfort. They may either swing the leg outward in an arc or lift the knee higher. This coping mechanism is what’s known as “steppage gait.”

Who Might Be Affected by Foot Drop?

Foot drop can be caused by certain neurological disorders, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and muscular dystrophy. These and other neurological conditions lead to weakening and deterioration of the muscles, which can cause foot drop. Cerebral palsy and stroke may also bring on foot drop.

In addition to individuals with neurological conditions, foot drop can also occur in people who have sustained nerve damage, or neuropathy. Specifically, the peroneal nerve, which extends from the sciatic nerve and wraps from behind the knee to the shin, is compromised in drop foot. There are a number of possible causes of this form of nerve damage, including diabetes, sports injuries, hip or knee replacements or time spent in a cast, long durations spent cross-legged or squatting, and childbirth.

How is it Treated?

Physicians make treatment recommendations based on the severity of the condition, as well as its root cause. While it is not always fully curable, some treatments can make noticeable improvements in gait. Leg braces may be worn to provide ample support. Patients may also benefit from attending physical therapy to perform leg and foot strengthening exercises. Certain movements can also be completed at home, including gentle stretches and chair exercises.

Sometimes, functional electrical stimulation is also used to enhance nerve functionality, which can spur muscle contraction to lift the foot. Doctors may also recommend nerve surgery if it is deemed to be a feasible solution. For individuals who would not benefit from surgery, implementing lifestyle changes such as eliminating floor clutter and ensuring homes are well-lit may be helpful.

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