Foot drop is a condition in which an individual is unable to lift their foot up toward their shin. This results in a dragging motion of the foot as they walk. Foot drop is often a sign of an underlying musculoskeletal or neurological condition. Depending on the cause, it can either be a temporary or permanent condition.
In order to compensate for dragging the foot, these individuals develop what is called a ‘steppage gait’. In order to keep the affected foot from dragging, they compensate by hiking up their hip on the affected side which gives the foot enough room to clear the ground. Although this gait does help keep the foot off the ground, it can lead to other problems including hip or knee pain.
The most common cause of foot drop is compression of the nerve that innervates the muscles responsible for lifting the foot. The nerve can be injured via trauma, surgery or as a result of disease process (e.g. Diabetes, muscle dystrophies, polio, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or stroke). Risk factors for temporary nerve compression include prolonged crossing of legs or kneeling, and wearing a leg cast (e.g. post-surgical). All of which put temporary compression on the nerve leading to loss of function.
The treatment for foot drop depends primarily on the underlying cause. However, common treatment modalities include a brace or splint which will hold the foot in a normal position, physical therapy and nerve stimulation. In chronic or severe cases surgery, such as tendon transfer may be required.
If you or someone you know has foot drop, consider making an appointment with Dr. Jay C. Larson at Sole Foot and Ankle Specialists in Glendale, Arizona. Medical attention should be sought out immediately following the onset since foot drop can be a presenting symptom of an underlying illness. Diagnosing and treating the underlying cause will help the medical team correctly approach the treatment of foot drop.