What is foot drop?
Foot drop is a nerve and muscle problem in your leg or ankle that prevents you from flexing or lifting your foot.
What causes foot drop?
Foot drop happens when the nerve involved in foot movement is pinched. This can happen when you stay in one position for too long. Foot drop may occur if you cross your legs often. It may also happen if you have recently lost weight and are able to cross your legs again. Tight bandages, braces, or casts may cause foot drop. Athletes with hard leg muscles could develop foot drop. Foot drop may be genetic (passed on to you by your parents). You may have foot drop if you have had a stroke, diabetes, or a mass blocking your nerves. In some cases, the cause is unknown.
What are the signs and symptoms of foot drop?
You may have any of the following:
- Numbness in your lower leg and foot.
- Trouble walking, lifting, or turning your foot.
- Feet and toes that slap or drag on the ground.
- A higher step than normal, such as when you climb stairs.
- Weak leg and foot muscles.
- Curled toes or corns (hard growths) on the ball of your foot.
How is foot drop diagnosed?
Your caregiver will examine your leg and foot to locate your nerve problem. You may also have any of the following tests:
- Electromyography: This is also called an EMG. An EMG is done to test the function of your muscles and the nerves that control them. Electrodes (wires) are placed on the area of muscle being tested. Needles that enter your skin may be attached to the electrodes. The electrical activity of your muscles and nerves is measured by a machine attached to the electrodes. Your muscles are tested at rest and with activity.
- Nerve conduction study: This is a test to check how well your nerves work. It helps locate the nerve damage in your leg and ankle. Your caregiver will place electrodes (wires) on your body. These send electric currents into the nerve to see how quickly it responds.
- Imaging tests: You may need imaging tests to find out if a mass is blocking your nerve. Ask your caregiver for more information on imaging tests.
How is foot drop treated?
Your caregiver may tell you to wait and see if your condition improves before giving you treatment. Your foot drop condition may improve on its own within 6 weeks. It may take longer for a serious injury to heal. You may need any of the following:
- Ankle brace: You may be given an ankle brace to help retrain your leg to lift your foot. It is made of hard plastic and holds your foot in place. Ankle braces may help prevent you from falling.
- Pain medicine: You may be given medicine to take away or decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.
- Functional electrical stimulation: This procedure gives your nerves and muscles small electric shocks as you walk. This may help your muscles remember to lift your foot when you walk.
- Physical therapy: You may need to see a physical therapist to teach you special exercises. These exercises help improve movement and decrease pain. Physical therapy can also help improve strength and decrease your risk for loss of function.
- Surgery: Surgery may be done when the nerve damage in your leg is severe. Ask your caregiver for more information about surgery.
What are the risks of foot drop?
You are more likely to fall and hurt yourself due to changes in how you walk. You may develop corns on your feet. You may not be able to do your daily activities such as dressing, walking, and playing sports as well as you could before.
How can I manage my foot drop condition?
Shift your body position often, and stretch your muscles daily. Make sure your seats are not too hard or too soft. Loosen bandages that feel too tight. Ask your caregiver about these and other ways to prevent foot drop.
When should I contact my caregiver?
Contact your caregiver if:
- Your symptoms such as numbness, trouble walking, or dragging your toes get worse or do not go away.
- You have more trouble walking, dressing, or playing sports.
- You have pain, redness, or swelling.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
When should I seek immediate help?
Seek care immediately or call 911 if:
- You fall and hurt yourself.
- The numbness in your legs and feet spreads or worsens.
- Your pain becomes severe.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.