When you walk, you naturally perform a movement known as dorsiflexion in which you lift the top part of your foot upward to take a step. This movement is a crucial part of walking properly and staying balanced. If you can’t perform this movement properly, you may suffer from a condition known as foot drop or drop foot.
Foot drop is a condition in which lifting the front part of your foot is difficult and indicates another underlying medical condition. Your brain, muscles, and nerves play crucial roles in executing the proper dorsiflexion while walking. If one or more of these crucial components isn’t working properly, you may suffer from foot drop.
Foot drop results from weakness or paralysis of muscles in the foot, which often causes the foot not to be able to lift to clear off the ground. This muscle weakness or paralysis can affect any of the muscles in the lower leg. The most common cause of foot drop is an injury to the peroneal nerve. This can happen due to a knee injury or during knee or hip surgery if the surgeon accidentally damages this nerve. This type of injury is more common in older individuals and women. Certain activities can put pressure on your peroneal nerve and contribute to foot drop, such as the following:
Certain diseases or disorders affecting the muscles, nerves, brain, or spinal cord may also contribute to foot drop. You’re more likely to suffer from foot drop if you have any of the following:
Foot drop causes an unusual gait, known as steppage gait, in which an individual raises their thigh higher than usual to get the drooping foot to clear the ground. The foot may then slap down when it makes contact with the floor. Foot drop may also cause you to walk with shuffling feet or result in frequent trips and falls. Some individuals experience numbness in their toes or the top of their foot.
Most health care providers can initially diagnose foot drop simply by watching you walk. They may also touch the top of your foot, toes, and ankle to look for numbness. Though your physician can identify foot drop visually, they’ll need to conduct further testing to identify the condition’s underlying cause. This may include one or more of the following tests:
Foot drop treatment varies greatly by patient. Some people can recover with simple physical therapy exercises performed in the home. Others may need more aggressive interventions. Your doctor may prescribe a foot brace or splint in conjunction with or as an alternative to these treatments.
In most cases, physical therapy is the first treatment that your health care provider will recommend. You may learn a series of exercises with a specialist and receive instructions on when and how to perform these activities at home. It’s essential that you keep up with the prescribed physical therapy at home regularly to get meaningful relief from foot drop. These exercises will strengthen your muscles and train your brain to work differently.
Your physician may refer you to a nerve specialist who can use functional electrical stimulators to apply electrical currents to the peripheral nerves. This can enhance the functionality of the surrounding muscles and improve your movement in the affected foot.
If other interventions are unsuccessful, your doctor may recommend surgery to treat your foot drop. Most physicians wait at least three months to see if another treatment option will produce results. Your doctor may also pursue surgery if a nerve laceration is suspected, as this won’t respond to other treatments. Foot drop surgery usually involves moving a tendon from another part of the foot to the front so you can use this alternate tendon to perform dorsiflexion properly.
Contact our specialists at Gurnee Podiatry & Sports Medicine as soon as possible. Dr. Schoene, Dr. Bever, and Dr. Joseph can help diagnose and treat this condition, providing personalized recommendations for your unique situation.