Foot drop, also known as drop foot, is a problem with lifting the front part of the foot. It sounds simple but is actually caused by an underlying neurological or muscular problem. It can also be related to surgery on the knee or tibia in the leg.
Causes – The problem is caused by weakness or paralysis in muscles of the ankle and foot. In simple terms, the muscles which cause the front of the foot, the toes, to lift from the ground, are weakened or paralyzed. This causes the toes and front of the foot to point, or drop, down and makes it difficult to clear the ground when moving the foot. Some causes of foot drop include:
Muscle or nerve damage
Muscle or nerve conditions such as muscular dystrophy
Disorders of the central nervous system such as stroke or multiple sclerosis
Reaction to drugs – Some drugs for treating multiple sclerosis and some chemotherapy drugs have been shown to cause foot drop.
Symptoms – The simple and obvious symptom is having difficulty in lifting the front part of the foot. The foot may drag on the ground when walking due to the toes being unable to lift high enough and some patients experience a ‘slapping’ of the foot due to weakness or paralysis.
Diagnosis – Clearly, the appearance of the foot is the main way to diagnose foot drop. Blood may be tested for underlying conditions such as diabetes which could be the cause. Photographs and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans may be taken of the affected foot. Electromyography (EMG) may be used to determine which muscles are affected and to what extent.
Treatment – In some cases, surgery can repair the damage to the affected muscles and relieve the symptoms for a patient. If there is an underlying cause, such as a spinal problem, this may be treated with surgery to relieve the problem.
Other patients are treated with the use of a brace for the ankle. This allows the patient a better range of movement and a closer to normal gait. A brace or splint can hold the foot in the correct position which also relieves pressure on the affected foot.
Physical therapy may be used to help ease the tension in the foot and to relax the muscles. This may be used in conjunction with other treatments.
Nerve stimulation is also used in foot drop patients. Especially in cases where the condition is linked to stroke, stimulating the nerve may help return more normal movement. A small, battery-powered device emits an electrical charge when the patient takes a step. This device is either strapped to the leg below the knee or is implanted in the leg surgically.
For more information about foot drop, its causes and treatments, try the following websites, here and here.