Wednesday, October 26th, 2022
Last modified on November 2nd, 2022
Foot drop (often known as drop foot) is a condition in which the front part of the foot fails to rise up due to weak or paralyzed muscles. It can happen temporarily or permanently and is a common side effect of medical conditions such as stroke, spinal cord injury, MS, and diabetes to name a few. After diagnosis, patients can expect to understand their symptoms, but sometimes are left with questions about walking with foot drop and what that may look like.
Resuming normal activity can be very difficult once you start experiencing symptoms associated with foot drop. Living with foot drop can be an emotional experience for those trying to adapt to the new lifestyle that comes with managing this condition. It is important to seek treatment from a medical professional quickly after you start experiencing signs of foot drop to help mitigate your symptoms and increase your chance of recovery. However, even with professional help, many patients are often left wondering about their limitations and how their ability to walk will be affected.
There are several key factors to note about walking with foot drop after diagnosis – for example, the amount of exercise performed and the type of brace you wear. In this blog, we take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions about walking with foot drop and provide answers that can help you feel more at ease for your recovery.
The short answer is yes, you can! Walking with foot drop is absolutely attainable if you have the right device to help you. Walking normally again will not happen overnight, which is why it is important to wear a foot drop brace or an ankle-foot-orthosis (AFO) to help stabilize your foot and ankle so you can move around safely.
There are several options on the market that can help you walk comfortably with foot drop. One of the most commonly recommended solutions is a traditional AFO which is worn inside the shoe. These are typically made of hard plastic and are rigid to keep the foot and ankle in place. You can get them either custom-made with the help of your clinician or prefabricated or “prefab” by buying one directly that is made for immediate use.
Although AFOs are a great tool for walking, some patients prefer using a foot drop brace that can be worn outside the shoe for a variety of reasons. The rigid design of the AFO can be bulky and painful for some users, which is why some foot drop patients may prefer the SaeboStep because of its softer, outside of the shoe design. To determine which type of brace will be better suited for you, it is important to consult your clinician before purchasing an assistive device.
Aside from wearing a foot drop brace or AFO, the best way to strengthen your foot to walk better with foot drop is by exercising daily. Just like any other muscle, it is critical to perform repeated exercise if you want to see your foot muscles get stronger – think of it like going to the gym.
Repeated exercise can be challenging at first, but over time you will see the difference in both your feet and your ability to walk. The best part is, there are a range of exercises for foot drop that you can do right at home!
Without the help of an AFO or foot drop brace, you can expect your toes to drag along the ground while walking. Many foot drop patients will lift their knee higher than normal or circumduct their hip to compensate for this. Some patients may not be able to maintain their balance enough to walk very far at all.
AFOs go inside the shoe and underneath the foot to prevent the toes from dragging. Other devices, like the SaeboStep wrap around the ankle and have strong cords that connect at the shoe eyelets, which can then be tightened by a dial to lift up the toes for better walking.
With either type of device, you can expect to walk more comfortably and efficiently with improved balance and mobility.
Running is possible to achieve with foot drop. Although, it’s important to note that it won’t happen immediately after you master walking. If you hope to run again with foot drop, performing those repeated exercises mentioned in question two is essential.
It’s also important to note that the device you choose for managing your foot drop can be restrictive when it comes to running. The inside shoe and rigid design of AFOs can sometimes prevent foot drop patients from returning to an active daily lifestyle.
Finding a lightweight solution like the SaeboStep that allows your foot/ankle to move more freely while lifting the toes up, will be more effective for helping you attempt to run again. Either way, with some motivation and some training, the ability to run while having foot drop is possible.
Like running, you will want to be sure you are maintaining a consistent foot exercise routine before attempting to hike with foot drop. It is also important to work on your leg strength and balance before hitting the trails. Walking on even ground is a hurdle in itself, but walking on rocky terrain is another challenge to overcome! If you put your mind to it, and make sure you are focusing on your balance, you can certainly hike with foot drop.
If you are experiencing bilateral foot drop (foot drop in both feet), then you’ll want to follow the same tips outlined above but focus equally on both feet. Make sure you pay attention to exercising both feet with the same number of reps for the same duration.
And yes, you can wear an AFO and/or foot drop brace on both feet! With bilateral foot drop, keeping your balance is critical to your safety. Make sure to consult your clinician about which devices on the market will be the most comfortable while keeping you stable.
While no health professional can responsibly guarantee improved recovery, the power of exercise and neuroplasticity (rewiring the brain) allows individuals to make amazing progress. The research is certainly on the side of the neurological patient who is willing to put in the work and dedicate time and effort towards their recovery.
Although we cannot answer that question definitively as every patient and condition is different. We can guarantee that there is a potential for improvement and possible removal of the foot drop brace as long as you stick to the home program provided by your therapist.
Overall, walking with foot drop is a gradual process that requires dedication to rehab and a comprehensive at-home exercise regimen. It is also critical to find the right AFO/foot drop brace to suit your needs and help you walk comfortably throughout the day. The more you practice moving your foot and maintaining your balance, the easier it will become to achieve each milestone, such as running or hiking!
As always, we recommend that you consult your physician prior to selecting a foot drop brace/AFO and before performing exercises on your own at home. It is necessary to understand the symptoms unique to your condition before moving forward with a plan that will help you walk safely with foot drop.