Foot drop is a condition that is characterized by the inability to lift the foot up (dorsiflex) against gravity. It occurs when the nerves (motor nerves) that control our lower leg muscles (ankle dorsiflexors) suffer an injury or stop functioning.
Lifting the foot up, an action known as ankle dorsiflexion is important for normal gait functions. Ankle dorsiflexion helps to clear the foot off the ground as our leg swings forward when we walk or run. Foot drop can cause tripping and falling,, and can severely impact a person’s ability to carry out daily activities.
Foot drop is primarily caused by injury to the motor nerves supplying our lower leg. Injury to the motor nerves can occur due to compression, trauma, infections (e.g poliomyelitis), genetic disorders (e.g Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease) or other health condition (e.g stroke).
Compression or entrapment of motor nerves occurs either from the direct pressure of nerves (e.g common fibular nerve injury), or by other body structures (e.g slipped discs). Traumatic injuries to the nerves commonly occur during surgery of the lower limb, fractures of the lower limb, or spine injury from a fall.
Signs and symptoms of foot drop include:
Below are the typical ways that the body compensates when walking with a foot drop:
Foot drop may be temporary or permanent depending on the cause. The treatment for foot drop aims at improving gait functions and reducing body compensations so that the patient’s quality of life can be improved.
Treatment for foot drop is normally an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO), which is a type of ankle brace that helps to lift the foot up when we walk. It can be either a fixed device for complete loss of motor function or a dynamic device to help support weakened muscles. Patients with AFO normally respond very well and are able to return to most activities before their injury.