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Understanding Foot Drop

By Janie Rosman, Staff Writer

(Page 1 of 2)

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, defines foot drop as “the inability to raise the front part of the foot due to weakness or paralysis of the muscles that lift the foot.” Muscles in the leg cannot raise the foot at the ankle, or the front part of the foot, due to paralysis of muscles that lift the foot.

Consequentially, people who have foot drop scuff their toes along the ground; they may also bend their knees to lift their foot higher than usual to avoid the scuffing, which causes what is called a “steppage” gait. When caused by pressure on the nerves that control the muscles in the leg or by a knee injury, foot drop can be temporary. However, damage to the nerves — and other medical disorders — can cause this to be a permanent condition affecting one or both feet.

Nerve injury

Compression of the nerve that controls the muscles involved in lifting the foot, which can happen at the knee or in the lower spine during hip or knee replacement surgery. Additionally, diabetic neuropathy (long-term nerve damage associated with diabetes) can also cause foot drop.

Muscle or nerve disorders

Forms of muscular dystrophy (an inherited disease that causes progressive muscle weakness), polio or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease can cause foot drop.

Brain and spinal cord disorders

These include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS) or stroke.

One neighbor experienced foot drop as the result of a stroke nearly one year ago. I hadn’t seen him in many months; he didn’t want to discuss it. I saw the stroke had affected his left side. While physical therapy helped him lift his leg, it looked like his foot and ankle muscles hadn’t fully recovered.

Toes that point away from the body when the foot is relaxed indicated foot drop. Feet and legs may feel weak; the person may have difficulty walking, or scuffs his or her toes, and trips frequently over the affected foot. To overcome or compensate, the person may lift the knees higher (step gait) so there is less chance of stumbling over the toes. The person may also slap his or her foot down with each step. In some cases, there may be tingling or numbness on the top of the foot, toes and ankle, caused by the particular way of walking, or it can be linked to an underlying cause of foot drop

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