Foot drop is a simple name for a very complex problem. Typically, it is caused by an underlying condition that affects the motor nerves in the spine or legs. People with foot drop may drag their foot or feet during ambulation. Depending on the severity of the nerve involvement, the injury to the nerves may be partial or completely affected. Whether foot drop is a temporary or permanent condition, appliances and braces can smooth the transition of walking, and prevent further damage to the joint.
The Anatomy of Foot Drop
Normally, the motor nerves control the dorsiflexion of the forefoot. The muscles in the shin area pull up the foot towards the knee, and the forefoot flexes. If these nerves are damaged or compressed, the forefoot falls limp and doesn’t lift off the ground during walking. Usually in a partially affected foot, the shoes are worn at the front and side of the sole. If left untreated, foot drop can continue to worsen with permanent stiffening and further deformity of the ankle joint.
Origins or Cause
People may develop foot drop after a stroke or any condition that weakens the muscles and nerves. Back and spinal cord injuries that cause paralysis or compress nerves weaken muscles in the legs and feet. Although the reasons are not completely understood, diabetes may contribute to foot drop. Experts speculate that diabetic neuropathy damages the nerves located below the knees. Neurologic disorders, such as: muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, diminish the nerve impulses to the dorsiflexors of the feet.
People who are experiencing a weakness in one or both feet should notify their healthcare providers. Foot drop is not a disease, but may be a serious indication of an underlying condition. It is paramount to seek treatment and receive a diagnosis as soon as possible, as some conditions may be reversible. Usually diagnostic tests include x-rays, CT scans, and possibly other imaging modalities.
Depending on the cause of foot drop, some conditions require surgical interventions. Decompression of the motor nerves in the back to correct a herniated disc may be indicated. Once the nerve is freed from the space in the spine, foot drop may resolve. Another technique is called nerve grafting. The damaged nerves below the knee are replaced with healthy nervous tissue.
The Importance of Support
Ankle braces and foot supports, known as an orthosis, are an extremely important to provide comfort during walking and prevent further deformity to the joint. As the muscles weaken in the forefoot, they become heavy and pull down on the ankle. Due to poor support, some people with drop foot can no longer achieve a normal 90 degree angle of the ankle-foot joint. Even people who are non- ambulatory should prevent deformity of the foot with a well-designed foot/ankle brace. Ensure the orthosis is lightweight, thin, and doesn’t have sharp or exposed edges that may cause friction injuries to the skin on the lower legs. The material should be breathable for comfort, to ensure it can be worn for long periods of time.
Overview of Foot Drop
Since it may be an indication of an underlying disease, people who note weakness in their feet should seek treatment from their healthcare provider. Foot support is important to maintain a normal joint angle and for comfortable walking. Foot drop may be permanent or temporary, but support is necessary for optimal health of the ankle-foot joint.
About MMAR Medical: MMAR Medical Group Inc. is one of North America's premiere medical orthopedic brace distributors, carrying a large selection of lumbar sacral support braces and rehabilitative cold therapy units.