Wednesday, May 1st, 2019
Last modified on May 25th, 2023
Foot drop affects millions of individuals around the globe, limiting their mobility and leading to a lower overall quality of life. Motor impairments like foot drop can be frustrating and, at times, exhausting, and those suffering from foot drop are at an increased risk of injury as a result of slips and falls. However, living with foot drop doesn’t have to be a burden, thanks to the many effective therapies now available to improve gait and increase stability. These treatments range from physical therapy exercises, to electrical stimulation for peroneal nerve foot drop, to the latest lightweight assistive foot drop devices, such as the SaeboStep. In this post, we will discuss foot drop causes, recovery, and treatment options. Let’s take a look…
If one were to define foot drop, it would be as a condition characterized by difficulty in lifting the front of the foot toward the shin, due to either weakness or paralysis in the muscles involved in dorsiflexion. Foot drop (also known as drop foot and colloquially as “floppy foot” due to the foot’s limp appearance) may be the result of a number of different underlying conditions and disorders. While drop foot typically affects only one foot, it is possible for the condition to involve both feet.
Stroke is a common cause of drop foot, with approximately one in five stroke survivors experiencing this symptom. As a result of a stroke (either ischemic or hemorrhagic), a portion of the brain is deprived of oxygen, resulting in the death of neural tissues and, consequentially, the loss of all or some of the functions controlled by the affected areas of the brain. The specific location and severity of the stroke will determine the likelihood of both temporary foot drop and long-term impairments.
In addition to stroke, there are other conditions and diseases that may lead to drop foot. For example, injury to the peroneal nerve, or compression of this nerve, may lead to a loss of dorsiflexion. Disorders affecting the muscles or nerves of the foot (such as muscular dystrophy or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) may also lead to drop foot. Neurological conditions including multiple sclerosis, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, and cerebral palsy can also cause drop foot. Regardless of the underlying cause, the condition will manifest with distinctive foot drop symptoms.
Primary foot drop symptoms involve difficulty with or loss of dorsiflexion. As one would imagine, the loss of dorsiflexion, or even marginal impairment of this function, can lead to a host of mobility issues for patients. For example, drop foot patients often report the foot slapping against the ground as it lands. Others notice the affected foot dragging during walking. Due to the diminished dorsiflexion associated with foot drop, sufferers may appear to have a limp or floppy foot when walking, and many find that their decreased stability makes changing directions difficult.
As a result of these foot drop symptoms, many individuals will eventually compensate with exaggerated movements to prevent foot dragging or foot slapping. This is known as steppage gait (or neuropathic gait), a gait abnormality characterized by over-lifting the knee and thigh. Lifting the thigh higher than normal allows drop foot sufferers to clear obstacles and ensure the foot isn’t being dragged along during activity. This high stepping gait may reduce foot dragging and foot slapping, however, over time, steppage gait may strain the muscles involved in these compensatory movements. Additionally, it’s common for the toes of the affected foot to curl inward, and some individuals with drop foot report corns on the bottom of the foot. Fortunately, there are many treatments designed to minimize foot dragging, correct slap foot gait, and restore dorsiflexion.
Today, the range of foot drop treatment options is more nuanced than ever. Patients and their care providers can explore the benefits of drop foot physical therapy, assistive devices used to correct steppage gait, and even the latest electrical stimulation treatments, complete with biofeedback.
There are many assistive foot drop devices available in an array of shapes and sizes, engineered to lift the front of the foot and accommodate a more natural glide of the foot during movement. For example, an
ankle-foot orthosis (also known as an AFO) envelops the foot and ankle to support the joint. These AFO foot braces are typically bulky and rigid, however, and must slide inside of a person’s shoe during activity, leading to an overall uncomfortable fit. Fortunately, there are also supportive, low-profile models on the market, like the state-of-the-art SaeboStep. Unlike thicker braces that wrap around the foot and ankle to support the joint, the SaeboStep is an external system designed with comfort and stability in mind. Most importantly, the SaeboStep works with virtually any shoe on the market (including models without laces). This means individuals can use their preferred shoe, rather than limiting themselves to options that can accommodate a large, cumbersome drop foot brace. The SaeboStep is an adjustable foot drop brace that’s as comfortable and versatile as it is functional.
Lightweight Spectra cord and small stainless steel prongs connect the front of the shoe to a comfortable and secure hook-and-loop strap just above the wearer’s ankle. Simply turning the ergonomic dial along the front of the ankle strap allows individuals to adjust the cord tension for a personalized fit and optimal lift.
Drop foot physical therapy is one of the most common treatments for patients suffering from diminished dorsiflexion. Therapeutic foot drop exercises focus on strengthening the muscles of the foot, ankle, and lower leg. Strengthening these muscles will improve stability and address abnormal compensatory movements associated with steppage gait. Over time, these exercises can help patients restore dorsiflexion and regain a normal stride during activity. Many of these exercises can be performed using only a person’s body weight. However, elastic bands and ankle weights may be used to help with strength training. Feel free to peruse our comprehensive guide to foot drop dorsiflexion exercises and more here. Physical therapy foot exercises for foot drop recovery also focus on restoring range of motion to help manage stiffness. At first, a physical therapist will guide the patient through each exercise to demonstrate proper form and establish ideal set and repetition guidelines. Once patients are comfortable with their foot drop physiotherapy regimens, they can perform these foot drop exercises at home for convenience. It’s important to remember, however, that these drop foot recovery exercises are typically used alongside other foot drop treatments.
Electrical stimulation is also beneficial for many people suffering from foot drop symptoms. During foot drop nerve stimulation therapy, electrical impulses are used to elicit a muscle contraction in the affected foot. A small device worn by the patient emits a safe electrical signal via a series of electrodes. These electrical impulses help facilitate muscle movement and, over time, may help increase strength, improve range of motion, and enhance stability. Recent studies have shown that peroneal nerve foot drop treatment involving electrical stimulation may lead to improved motor function.
If the aforementioned treatment strategies have not adequately relieved a patient’s foot drop symptoms, a medical professional may recommend foot drop surgery as a last resort. The nature of the recommended surgery will depend on the cause of the condition. For example, if foot drop is related to the compression of a nerve, surgery may focus on reducing the pressure around the nerve. Additionally, a tendon transfer, utilizing a healthy tendon from another part of the body, may be used to improve strength and stability in some instances. For other patients, it may be necessary to fuse the bones of the foot and ankle to minimize foot dragging and enhance mobility.
As millions of individuals around the world know all too well, living with foot drop can be frustrating. Fortunately, there are many small steps people can take to help with motor deficits around the home. These include keeping living spaces free of clutter, cables, and throw rugs to minimize the risk of slips and falls. Similarly, it may be helpful to add a shower chair and handrails around the restroom to prevent accidents on slippery surfaces. Simply making sure that rooms (and especially stairwells) are properly lit can help patients avoid obstacles and missteps. Depending on the cause, drop foot may be permanent, although temporary foot drop is also common. However, with an effective multi-faceted treatment strategy and the right assistive devices, it is possible to correct steppage gait, increase strength, and improve range of motion during the drop foot recovery process. Here at Saebo, we are committed to drop foot recovery for all patients and their families. Saebo offers a wide range of products that combine cutting-edge technology with evidence-based drop foot rehabilitation techniques. Our products, including the SaeboStep and Saebo MyoTrac Infiniti, as well as our network of Saebo-trained therapists, can help you or a loved one obtain all the necessary tools to maximize the drop foot recovery process. Put your best foot forward with the Saebo team and our full range of drop foot recovery products. Learn more about our foot drop devices and start your 30-day risk-free trial today!
All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by the Saebo website is solely at your own risk.