Foot drop is a condition which is characterized by dragging of the foot and toes along the ground when walking. High steppage gait is a very common symptom of foot drop, whereby the sufferer raises the thigh while walking to compensate for the inability to raise the foot off the ground. Dragging/scraping the foot or toes off the ground, or the toes repetitively slapping off the ground are signs of high steppage gait. The condition makes it extremely difficult to walk or take part in other activities. Furthermore, foot drop can cause atrophy or weakness in the lower leg muscles. There are multiple underlying causes for foot drop, which normally dictate how the symptoms of the condition present.
Causes of Foot Drop
Foot drop causes are separated into three groups: Damaged muscles, abnormalities of the skeleton or bodily structure and nerve damage. There are also a number of conditions which can lead to foot drop. Some of the most common disease related causes are diabetes, stroke, conditions which affect the lower back and injuries to the foot or leg. In order to diagnose and treat foot drop, the underlying cause must be established. When the problem originates in the lower back, for example, pinched or compressed nerves are a leading cause of foot drop.
Any damage to the peroneal nerve, which runs down the leg to the toes from the knee, may cause foot drop. Herniated discs may press on the sciatic nerve, causing pain in the leg and numbness in the foot, which forces the sufferer to walk with an irregular gait. Another condition of the lower back which can cause foot drop is lumbar spinal stenosis. When the roots of the spinal nerves become compressed, secondary pain is experienced when walking. However, this condition is not very common in people under the age of 60. Other lower back conditions which may cause foot drop include spondylolisthesis, where an upper vertebra slips and pinches a nerve, fractures of the spine or other damage to the spinal nerves.
Diagnosis and Treatment
In order to arrive at the proper diagnosis of the underlying condition causing foot drop, a full medical history will be needed. The range of mobility in the affected foot is also useful in determining the cause, as the examination will rate movement from full mobility to paralysis on a five-point scale. Next, the general function of the leg is assessed, which includes checking for signs of atrophy. In some cases, an MRI is needed to establish whether there is significant nerve damage which would lead to the development of foot drop. Unless the sufferer has already been diagnosed with conditions such as diabetes, motor neuron disease or Parkinson’s disease, further testing will be needed to eliminate those conditions as a contributing factor.
As long as there is no muscle damage, the use of foot drop braces and splints will help restore strength in the foot. These braces are designed to prevent the foot from making contact with the ground, resulting in the correction of gait when walking. Braces and splints also support the ankle and foot, with the additional benefit of preventing muscles from atrophying. A chiropodist can also provide treatments which will restore strength and movement to the leg and foot. As an accompaniment to treatment, specifically targeted exercises will greatly increase the range of movement, reduce pain and help the patient to break habits which are a result of the condition. By undergoing a combination of treatments, most sufferers of foot drop can regain full mobility and regain a normal gait.
Although a physiotherapist can provide treatment, a chiropodist will offer additional treatments which will improve the chances of and speed up recovery. Step by Step chiropodists have helped countless patients recover from foot drop and regain confidence, balance and a more natural gait. Living with the pain, discomfort and mobility restrictions caused by foot drop and associated conditions is often avoidable. The sooner the sufferer seeks help the better, as further complications may arise from failing to address the condition. In cases where a cure isn’t possible for foot drop, our specially designed braces, splints and treatments can help you manage the condition.