Foot drop occurs when the muscles used to lift the front section of the foot become weak or paralyzed. Flexion of the toes and ankles becomes an effort, if not impossible.
If you have difficulty lifting your foot when walking and must drag it to move, you may suffer from foot drop. The condition may affect one or both feet, and is also known as “drop foot.” It is not a disease per se, but a symptom of another problem.
If you experience foot drop, contact a skilled doctor as soon as possible. Depending on the cause, foot drop may resolve with treatment or become a permanent condition.
Foot Drop Causes
Various conditions may result in foot drop. The most common include:
- Muscle disorders
- Nerve disorders
- Nerve injury – a “pinched” nerve in the spine may cause foot drop, as can nerve compression in the leg
- Foot or leg injury
- Herniated disks
- Skeletal abnormalities in the foot
- Spinal cord or brain disorders – certain disorders of the spine or brain, including stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – and multiple sclerosis may cause foot drop
- Spinal stenosis
- Tumor – a growth pressing on nerves may result in foot drop
Patients with diabetes are at greater risk of foot drop, as they have a higher rate of nerve disorders. Sciatica sufferers may also experience foot drop.
Besides difficulty lifting the front of the foot, other symptoms indicate foot drop. In minor cases, only the toes may drag while walking. The top of the foot and shin may become numb. Some patients develop an odd gait to counter the dragging, and lift their thighs high when walking.
One consequence of this gait is hitting the ground or floor hard with each step. In more severe cases, the patient is unable to walk or cannot walk without assistance.
Foot drop is not usually painful, but numbing and tingling are common.
The doctor will observe the patient walking and take a complete medical history. The patient may be asked to try walking on their heels, which is difficult with foot drop. Tests for numbness are also performed. Diagnostic tests include:
- CT scan
- MRI – can identify soft tissue lesions
- Ultrasound – may be used if a growth is suspected
- Electromyography – for nerve testing
Treatment for foot drop depends on the diagnosis. Braces or devices inserted into the shoe may allow patients to hold their foot normally. The doctor may recommend physical therapy, especially exercises to strengthen muscles and improve range of motion.
If the condition causing the foot drop resolves, the foot drop should also disappear. For example, if the foot drop relates to a herniated disc, treating the primary cause relieves the foot drop.
In certain cases, surgery may improve or relieve foot drop. When caught early, nerve surgery may restore a normal gait. Even if the patient has been dealing with foot drop for some time, surgery to fuse foot and ankle bones may help. Another option is an operation moving a tendon to a different location.
Contact a Doctor
If you are experiencing foot drop, call a skilled doctor today and make an appointment for an examination.