What is foot drop and how can it be treated?
Foot drop or Drop foot
Foot Drop or Drop Foot is the inability to lift the front part of the foot. Because of loss of control in the front portion, drop feet patients are either seen dragging their toes or have different gait. They tend to lift their knee higher than usual or swing their leg in a wide arc to avoid grazing their toes. Foot drop is not a disease in itself, but can be regarded as a symptom of some other underlying medical conditions. Foot drop can affect one or both the feet which makes recovery difficult.
- Peroneal Nerve Damage
Nerve damage is the most common reason for foot drop. The peroneal nerve which encompasses the entire leg from below the knee is prone to damage as it is very close to the surface. The damage can be caused by various reasons like sport injuries, diabetes, sitting in cross legged position for long hours, child birth and sudden weight loss.
- Neurological or spinal disorders
Progressive neurological or spinal disorders can cause the foot drop disease. These include stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
- Muscle disorders
There are about 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons in a foot. Foot conditions such as muscular dystrophy, Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and polio progressively weaken foot muscles leading to foot drop.
Treatment of foot drop depends on the cause of the disease. If foot drop is caused by nerve damage, it can be corrected by physiotherapy, braces and electrical stimulation. If it is caused as a secondary disorder due to a neurological or spinal condition then, the primary condition is to be treated.
One of the most effective treatment options, physiotherapy is used to treat foot drop as single mode of treatment or coupled with Ankle Foot Orthotics (leg brace) and electrical stimulation treatment to strengthen weak muscles and improve gait. Physical therapy exercises strengthen the ankle and foot muscles and effectively improve symptoms.
- Ankle Foot Orthotics (AFO)
AFO is commonly used leg brace device inserted in the shoe to support a patient’s foot at 90 degrees. The brace stabilises a patient’s foot while walking and helps clear the toes when in swinging motion.
- Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) device
The FES device is not a very commonly used option. The device consists of two electrodes which produce electrical impulses which stimulate the nerve to contract the affected muscle, making it easier to walk. Stroke and sclerosis patients have successfully used the device to improve their gait.
Permanent loss of movement in the foot region caused by muscle paralysis can be treated with surgery. Surgery usually involves transferring tendons or fusing bones of the ankle joint to stabilise the ankle.
If you experience tingling and numbness in the front part your foot it could be a sign of drop foot. Consult your physician immediately for further course of treatment.