Drop foot, sometimes called foot drop, is a term that describes a disorder where a patient has a limited ability or inability to raise the foot at the ankle joint. This condition makes walking difficult as you may drag the front of your foot on the ground when you walk.
Although drop foot is considered a neuromuscular disorder that affects the nerves and muscles, it is not actually a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying medical problem. This problem could be muscular, caused by nerve damage in the leg, or the result of a brain or spinal injury.
Drop foot usually only affects one foot (unilateral), but both feet (bilateral) may be affected depending on the cause.
Sometimes drop foot is temporary. In other cases, drop foot is permanent. If you have drop foot, you may need to wear a brace on your ankle and foot to hold your foot in a normal position. The goal of bracing is to provide patients with a more normal and comfortable gait.
Drop foot is caused by weakness or paralysis of the muscles that lift the front part of your foot. This can be the result of a number of underlying problems.
Causes of foot drop include:
– Nerve injuries
– Neurodegenerative disorders
– Muscle weakness
Here’s some more detail on these causes:
Nerve injury: The most common cause of drop foot is compression of a nerve in your leg that controls the muscles involved in lifting the foot. This nerve, known as the peroneal nerve, is a branch of the sciatic nerve that wraps from the back of the knee to the front of the shin.
The nerves in the leg can also be injured or damaged during hip replacement or knee replacement surgery. Injury to the nerve roots in the spine may also cause drop foot.
People who have diabetes are more susceptible to nerve disorders, which are associated with drop foot. Diabetic neuropathy can result in a partial or complete drop foot that typically causes the feet to slap while walking and predisposes the patient to stumble and fall when the toes catch on an uneven surface.
Neurodegenerative disorders: Many neurodegenerative disorders of the brain that cause muscular problems, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, and cerebral palsy can cause drop foot.
Muscle disorders. Various forms of muscular dystrophy, an inherited disease that causes progressive muscle weakness, may contribute to drop foot.
These diseases include:
– Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS)
– Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT)
If you have drop foot, you’ll find it difficult to lift the front part of your foot off the ground. This means you’ll have a tendency to scuff your toes along the ground, increasing your risk of falls. To prevent this, you may lift your foot higher than usual when walking.
Treatment depends on the specific cause of drop foot. The most common treatment is to support the foot with light-weight leg braces and shoe inserts, called ankle-foot orthotics. A podiatrist can prescribe an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) to be worn on the lower part of the leg to help control the ankle and foot. It holds your foot and ankle in a straightened position to improve your walking.
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