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Understanding Foot Drop
By Janie Rosman, Staff Writer
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.