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Foot Drop: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Foot drop is a condition in which you cannot raise the front part of one or both feet. Foot drop can be a temporary problem, or it can be permanent, depending on what causes it.

Foot drop

What are the causes of foot drop?

Foot drop is a symptom of an underlying problem. This condition can be caused by many medical conditions or diseases that affect the nerves or muscles, including:

  • Multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS), spinal muscular atrophy, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, muscular dystrophy, polio, or cerebral palsy
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Diabetes
  • An injury to the common peroneal nerve, which is located in the lower leg and helps control feeling and movement in the leg

What are the symptoms of foot drop?

People who have foot drop may drag their toes when they walk. They may also have to lift their knees higher than usual to avoid dragging their toes. Other symptoms include muscle weakness and “tingling” feelings in the leg.

How is foot drop diagnosed?

To diagnose foot drop, the doctor will do a physical examination and ask you about your symptoms. The doctor will also want to see how you walk, and will examine your leg muscles for any weakness or damage.

The doctor may order certain tests, including the following:

  • Imaging tests, including X-rays, ultrasound, and MRI and CT scans, to look for injuries to the legs, spinal cord, or brain
  • Blood tests to check blood sugar levels, and to look for any potential toxins (poisons) that could be causing the condition
  • Nerve conduction tests to examine how the nerves are functioning
  • Electromyography, a test in which electrodes are placed in the muscles of the legs to measure their electrical activity (how well they transmit signals and sensations).

How is foot drop treated?

Treatment for foot drop depends on what is causing it. Treatment options include the following:

  • Exercises to strengthen the lower leg muscles
  • Orthotics: An orthotic is a lightweight device that is worn on the ankle and lower leg to keep them straight. The doctor may also recommend orthotic shoe inserts.
  • Electrical nerve stimulation: Electrodes are placed on the lower leg and connected to a small pack that the patient wears on his or her hip. The pack sends impulses to the electrodes to cause the nerves in the lower leg to shorten, which helps lift the leg. In some cases, the electrodes are implanted in the patient’s leg through surgery.
  • Surgery: A tendon can be transferred from the other leg to the muscle in the affected leg to help it pull the foot up. If foot drop is permanent, your doctor may recommend surgery to fuse your foot and ankle joint.

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people with foot drop?

Most people will fully recover from foot drop. Some patients who have foot drop that is caused by a more serious condition may never recover fully from the condition.

When should you call the doctor about foot drop?

If you are having trouble moving your feet, or you notice that you are adjusting the way you walk in order to avoid dragging your toes, contact your doctor. He or she will examine you to determine whether you have foot drop.

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