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Understanding Foot Drop

By Janie Rosman, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 2)

Foot drop is diagnosed during a physical exam. The doctor will ask you to walk and will check leg muscles for weaknesses and may check your shins and the tops of your feet and toes for numbness.

Specific causes of foot drop determine its treatment. Supporting the foot with light-weight leg braces and shoe inserts, called ankle-foot orthotics, is a commonly-used treatment; exercise therapy can strengthen muscles and maintain joint motion, which helps improve gait.

The peroneal nerve controls the muscles that lift the foot. Activities that compress this nerve, such as crossing one’s legs, prolonged kneeling or squatting, or wearing a leg cast, exert pressure on this nerve and increase risk of foot drop.

Electronically stimulating the peroneal nerve during foot fall can be appropriate for some people with foot drop. Surgery fusing the foot and ankle joint, or that transfers tendons from stronger leg muscles, is occasionally performed when there is permanent loss of movement.

Foot drop caused by trauma or nerve damage can show a partial or complete recovery; if a symptom of progressive neurological disorders, foot drop can continue as a lifelong occurrence and will not shorten life expectancy. Treatment depends on the underlying cause, which, if successfully treated, may improve foot drop or cause it to disappear.

Other helpful treatments include an ankle and foot brace or a splint, physical therapy and exercises that strengthen the leg muscles and help maintain knee and ankle range of motion; heel stiffness can be prevented by stretching exercise.

Due to increased risk of falling and tripping, caregivers are reminded to take precautions at home:  keep floors clear of clutter; avoid using throw rugs which can slip; move all electrical cords from walkways and halls; keep rooms and stairways properly lighted; and place fluorescent tape on the tops and bottoms of stairs.

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