What Is Foot Drop? What Are Its Causes And Treatment Options?

Foot drop is a complex disorder which is characterized by weakness of the muscles of ankle and toe. Due to weakened muscles, the patient is not able to lift his foot upwards. In a true sense these patients drag their foot while walking. And to prevent it they lift their knee high when they walk or they swing their leg widely.

With such type of abnormal gait, the patient puts lot of pressure on his knees and the hip. This compromised gait is referred to as ‘steppage gait’

As the condition progresses the patient makes a slapping sound of his foot when he touches the ground. Foot drop is not a disease per se; it is a disorder arising out of some neurological condition (stroke), muscular disease, or anatomical abnormality. Foot drop can affect individual of any age group, however certain factors indicate that the condition has a higher prevalence among males as compared to their female counterparts.

Causes Of Foot Drop

Foot drop is a symptom which is associated with several medical conditions. The condition may be permanent or temporary in nature.

The primary causes for foot drop include the following,

  • Nerve Injury: Injury to the peroneal nerve is the most common cause of foot drop, since the nerve is located too close to the surface of the skin and hence prone to damage. The nerve may be damaged as an outcome of a sport injury, knee or hip replacement surgery, sitting for prolonged periods with the feet crossed or diabetes. Obese people are prone to injury to the peroneal nerve.
  • Spinal or brain disorders: Certain neurological conditions like cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or stroke can lead to foot drop.
  • Muscular disorders: Certain conditions are linked with progressive deterioration and weakening of the muscles resulting in foot drop. Some of the common conditions include polio, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.

Foot Drop Signs And Symptoms

Foot drop is associated with typical signs and symptoms,

  • Foot drop is associated with a typical gait characterized by increased arch of movement at the hip and the knee joint. There is slapping sound when the patient touches his affected foot on the ground.
  • If associated nerve injury is present, the symptoms may be associated with pain and tingling numbness.

The symptoms may affect either one or both the legs.

Treatment Options For Foot Drop

Since the condition is associated with array of different causative factors, the treatment primarily focuses on managing the cause. Experts suggest that early treatment of the condition can help improve the overall chances of recovery. Some of the treatment options include,

  • Use of light weight braces can help in supporting the leg and prevent additional injury while walking.
  • Physical therapy is recommended to help strengthen the muscles involved and improve the gait. Certain electronic devices are used to stimulate the nerves to improve nerve conduction and muscular coordination.
  • Surgery is inevitable in cases of nerve injury or compression. In some cases, the ankle and the foot may be fused together to reduce further muscle damage. Alternatively, the weak tendons are replaced with stronger tendons from other muscles to improve contraction and alleviate the symptoms.
  • Shoe inserts and orthotics are used in patients to alleviate the symptoms. It also aids in improving the gait.

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