Drop foot, also known as foot drop, is a term used when one cannot lift the front part of the foot while walking. It is not a condition or illness but a sign of underlying muscle or nerve problems. When you have drop foot, the inability to lift the front part of the foot causes the foot to drag when walking. In most cases, neurological, anatomical, or muscular problems cause a drop foot.
How Do You Know You Have Drop Foot?
The most common sign is the inability or difficulty lifting the front part of the foot, but you should watch out for drop foot if you trip or fall a lot. The signs may be gradual or appear suddenly and may include
- A limp foot
- Loss of balance if you stand with your eyes closed
- Difficult holding shoes
- Resulting in a circumduction walking style
- Adopting a high step gait to prevent the toes from hitting the floor when walking
The symptoms may sometimes be confusing as they alternate with periods of regular walking.
What Causes Foot Drop
Foot drop is caused by the weakness of either the Tibialis anterior, Extensor digitorum longus or Extensor hallucis longus, which are muscles in the leg that aid in walking. The muscle weakness can result from muscular or neurological problems.
When the cause of foot drop is a muscular disorder, degeneration or loss of function in the peroneal, pretibial, or hip flexor muscles may be the issue. Myotonic dystrophy, a muscular condition, may also lead to a drop foot.
Neuro problems resulting from nerve damage, compression, or degeneration may cause drop foot. Neuropathy of the sciatic, deep peroneal, and common peroneal nerve are the most common neurological causes of drop foot.
Conditions such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, autoimmune disorders, and diabetes can also lead to neuropathy. Brain and spinal disorders such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may also lead to nerve damage and a foot drop. Also, excess consumption of alcohol may damage nerves leading to drop foot.
Is Drop Foot a Permanent Condition?
In some cases, drop foot is temporary, but it depends on whether the cause is identifiable and treatable. A doctor may need to carry out a physical exam to check your walking style, numbness on your foot, and muscle weakness. Additional tests, including x-rays and MRI's, may be needed to pinpoint exact problem areas. The treatment may include foot braces or sprints that support the feet when walking, physical therapy, nerve stimulation exercises, and surgery. Foot drop can last for as long as it takes to treat the cause.
If you suspect you have drop foot, get a professional diagnosis to ascertain and prevent further muscle and nerve degeneration. Because of constant tripping and falling, make your home safe by removing all obstacles on the way, such as clutter and electrical wires, and be more careful when going up and downstairs. Also, invest in good lighting, especially on the stairs and corridors. In some cases, drop foot doesn’t require any medical intervention and may resolve on its own when the cause also resolves itself.