Foot drop, also referred to in the reverse order as drop foot, is a general symptom with a wide range of causes. The hallmark characteristic of the gait abnormality is the dragging of the toes or front part of the foot due to muscle weakness or paralysis. The condition can sometimes occur without any pain or visual symptoms—this may be because people suffering from foot drop tend to lift their knees higher than normal to elevate their toes enough to complete a step.
Foot drop is commonly associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). MS upsets the signals between the brain and body. When communication to the peroneal nerve, a nerve running from the lower back down the leg, is affected by MS, it can lead to nerve injury or muscle weakness that results in the drop foot affect.
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), or Loug Gehrig’s disease, is another common cause of foot drop. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis translates from Greek to mean “no muscle nourishment”, and as you might imagine, a malnourished muscle is going to atrophy. Typically, the muscles in the foot are the first to become affected by ALS, causing a lack of ability to lift the frontal foot, so it’s always a good idea to visit a doctor right away if you’re experiencing foot drop.
Other maladies that can cause weakness in the foot muscles are strokes and muscular dystrophy. Muscular dystrophy is a collection of genetic disorders that disrupts the production of proteins necessary for healthy muscle growth, and therefore can harm motor ability in the feet. On the other hand, a stroke can disrupt the brain’s ability to communicate with the body, causing numbness in the foot or a lack of muscular control.
Foot drop can also be related to injuries to the knee or lower spine, hip or knee surgery, diabetes, or eye problems that prevent a broad enough field of vision to walk properly.
While the source of foot drop might not be curable, there are treatments that can eliminate, or reduce the problem. Orthotics such as braces and splints can be worn either in the shoe, around the ankle, or near the knee to help promote a better gate. Ankle-foot orthotics (AFOs) are also frequently used to help keep the toes up, however, the drawbacks include wearing a larger shoe and discomfort during long walks.
Stim, or electrical stimulation, treatment can also help alleviate drop foot. In this case, a small device worn above or below the knee sends a mild electrical current to the muscle to aid movement.
Physical therapy can also relieve the discomforts of drop foot. Exercises that improve flexibility and strength can sometimes save more invasive responses to the aliment.
In cases where external remedies prove deficient, surgical procedures can help. Sometimes grafting from a healthy tendon onto the leg and foot, and or nerve grafting can help patients regain control enough to walk normally. In more drastic scenarios, fusing the foot and ankle bypasses the peroneal muscle’s role, but it comes at the cost of reduced flexibility.
Regardless of the cause, living with drop foot can be burdensome both physically, and emotionally. Fortunately, when managed properly, the problems can be significantly reduces, if not eliminated entirely. To find out the best approach for your case, schedule a visit with Dr. Coletta to discuss your treatment options today.
Dr. Nina L. Coletta has been practicing Podiatry for over twenty years. Her practice remains on the cutting edge of advancements in Podiatric Medicine, providing state-of-the-art laser treatments, three-dimensional technology to construct custom orthotics and braces, and in-house arterial and venous studies of the lower extremity. From pediatrics to geriatrics, her staff provides superior care in a warm, welcoming environment.