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5 Types of Foot Drop Treatment

Foot drop is not a disease, but a symptom of a separate muscular, neurological, or anatomical disorder. Treatment depends on the cause.

People who suffer from foot drop have muscle weakness or paralysis that make it difficult to lift the front part of the foot. The condition can even mean that the toes drag along the floor when walking. To compensate, people often develop an unusual gait, lifting the knee high at each step, or swinging the leg around.

Disorders That Can Cause Foot Drop Include:

Nerve injury: Usually damage to the peroneal nerve (a branch of the sciatic nerve) that wraps around from the back of the knee to the shin. The peroneal nerve runs close to the surface of the leg so is vulnerable to damage. Injury to the nerve might result from hip or knee surgery, diabetes, a sports injury, excessive time spent in a crossed-leg or squatting position, or it may be that the nerve root in the spine gets damaged.

Brain or spinal disorder: Stroke, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis are neurological conditions that can cause foot drop.

Muscle disorder: Some conditions such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, polio, or muscular dystrophy can result in muscle deterioration or weakness, leading to foot drop.

Foot Drop Treatment

For optimum recovery, early treatment is recommended, and the type of treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the foot drop.

Brace or splint: The use of a lightweight leg brace on the ankle and foot is the most common treatment. The brace fits inside the shoe and holds the foot in a fixed position, enabling a more normal walking gait.

Ankle-foot orthosis (AFO): These are often used. They hold the foot at a 90-degree angle, helping the toes to clear the floor when swinging the foot forwards. They also provide stability to the ankle while standing. They are usually constructed of polypropylene or other, softer elasticized material, and are inserted into a shoe.

Physical therapy: Exercises can be performed to increase strength in the foot and leg muscles. Sometimes neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) can be given to the peroneal nerve. A switch (which can be implanted or external) on the affected leg is activated when the foot lifts off the ground, and turns off when the heel hits the ground. An alternative device, the WalkAide, comes in the form of a battery-operated cuff worn on the leg. Electrical impulses stimulate the leg muscles to raise the foot at the correct point in the step cycle.

Surgery: In some cases, a surgical procedure to repair the peroneal nerve might be suitable, or to transfer a nerve branch from a less important leg muscle and connect it to the muscle that raises the foot. Sometimes the transfer of a tendon from a stronger muscle to the weak area can help improve stability and walking. If the foot drop condition is permanent, another surgical option is to fuse the ankle-foot joint. This obviously results in loss of flexibility in the ankle, but can provide greater stability.

Vitamin therapy: B6 or a nerve medication can be administered to promote healing of the damaged nerve in the hope that foot drop symptoms will decrease or disappear.