Foot drop is the inability to lift the foot and toes properly when walking. It is caused by weakness or paralysis of the muscles that lift the foot.
People with foot drop tend to scuff their toes along the ground, so they may lift their foot higher than usual when walking to prevent this.
Foot drop is often linked to damage or disease of the brain or spinal cord, although it may also result from injury to the nerves in the leg.
If foot drop is caused by an injury or nerve damage, recovery is often possible. However, if it’s caused by a progressive neurological condition such as multiple sclerosis, foot drop will probably be a lifelong symptom to manage.
Conditions that cause foot drop
The condition causing foot drop can be temporary or permanent. Possible causes include:
- spinal muscular atrophy
- spinal stenosis
- acquired peripheral neuropathy
- damage to the nerve that passes below the knee
Managing foot drop Without Surgery
If you have foot drop, you may find it hard to clear the affected foot from the ground. This means you are more at risk of falls and injury.
Generally, making small changes in your home, such as using non-slip rugs and mats and removing clutter, can make a big difference in helping to prevent falls. Read more about preventing falls.
There are also measures you can take to stabilise the foot and improve your walking ability. These include:
- having physiotherapy to strengthen the foot and lower leg muscles
- wearing an ankle-foot orthosis (lower leg brace) and shoe insert
- using an electrical stimulation device – although this is only suitable for use if the nerves controlling muscle movement are not affected
Surgery to treat foot drop
Surgery may be considered for those with permanent loss of movement from muscle paralysis. This usually involves transferring a tendon from the stronger leg muscles to the muscle that should be pulling the ankle upwards.
In rare cases, the bones of the ankle joint may be fused to stabilise the ankle.
If you are considering this form of surgery, speak to an orthopaedic specialist about what is involved and the pros and cons of the treatment.