Florida Spine Institute

Foot Drop

Foot drop, also sometimes referred to as drop foot, is a gait disturbance that occurs when someone has difficulty lifting the front of their foot. Walking with foot drop will include dragging the front of the foot on the ground with each step. Like many gait disturbances, foot drop is not a disease, but instead a symptom of an underlying anatomical, muscular or neurological problem.

  • What Causes Foot Drop?

    The gait disturbances caused by foot drop typically occur when the muscles responsible for lifting the front of the foot are weakened or paralyzed. The three common causes of foot drop include:

    • Nerve or muscle disorders. Muscular dystrophy, which causes muscle weakness, can cause foot drop, as well as other disorders such as polio.
    • Nerve injury. One of the most common causes of foot drop occurs when a nerve that controls the muscles in the top of the foot is pinched in the spinal cord or injured in surgery.
    • Spinal cord and brain disorders. Common spinal cord and brain disorders that can cause foot drop are a stroke, multiple sclerosis or ALS.

    The nerve responsible for controlling the muscles on top of the foot is called the peroneal nerve, which is also known as the fibularis nerve, and runs up the leg, along the outside of the knee. Activities such as prolonged kneeling or crossing your legs for a long amount of time can increase your chances of compressing the peroneal nerve, causing foot drop.

  • How is Foot Drop Treated?

    By watching how you walk and ordering some imaging tests to determine the cause, your doctor will be able to better create a treatment plan for you. Depending on the cause, foot drop may just be temporary, but it can also become permanent. Using braces or orthotics can be helpful in holding your foot in the correct position, and physical therapy will help strengthen leg muscles to increase your range of motion. It is also important to stretch the muscles of the heel so they do not become stiff.

    If those are unsuccessful, your doctor may suggest surgery, depending on the cause of your foot drop and how long you have had it. If it is still new, nerve surgery has been shown to be very effective; foot drop that has lasted a long time would benefit more from a fusion surgery to fuse your ankle and foot bones into the correct position.

    Many underlying conditions may create foot drop, which results in a gait disturbance. Contact the skilled neurological specialists at the Florida Spine Institute today for a diagnosis and to discuss your treatment options.