Foot drop is not a disease, rather a sign of an underlying neurological or muscular condition. Foot drop is defined as the inability to dorsiflex the foot. It is further characterized by numbness and loss of function. Individuals with foot drop have a unique tiptoe walk. During the gait cycle some may drag their toes along the ground and others raise the leg higher than normal and slightly bend the knee to prevent the foot from dragging or slapping against the ground.
The classic foot drop is caused by damage to the common peroneal nerve that weakens the anterior and lateral muscle groups. Other causes include: nerve compression from a lumbar disc herniation, injury to the sciatic nerve, gunshot wounds, crush injuries, tumors or lower motor neuron diseases such as poliomyelitis and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
Our physicians at Foot & Ankle Doctors, Inc. will perform an extensive workup before diagnosing a patient with foot drop. A compressive history and physical examination will be performed. We ask our patient to walk so we can examine leg muscles for weakness and observe how the patient is compensating for the muscle imbalance. Imaging test such as: x-ray, CT and MRI can help pinpoint various causes. A nerve conduction test called an electromyography (EMG) measure electrical activity in the muscles and nerves and are useful in determining where and which nerve is damaged.
Treatment options include:
- Braces or splits – these will fit into the shoe and help hold the foot up assisting with ambulation
- Physical therapy – exercises can strengthen the muscles and maintain range of motion
- Nerve stimulation – stimulating the nerve can help recondition the nerve and improve the severity of foot drop
- Surgery – a physician may recommend nerve grafting, nerve transfer or tendon transfers depending on the cause of the foot drop