How to Treat Foot Drop with Electrical Stimulation

Henry Hoffman
Thursday, August 20th, 2020
Last modified on September 6th, 2022


foot drop treatment with estim

What is Foot Drop?

Foot drop, also known as dropped foot or drop foot, is the inability to raise the front part of the foot up toward the shin. This happens due to weakness or paralysis of the muscles that lift the foot (National Institute of Neurological Disorders). Patients who suffer from foot drop often scuff their toes along the ground; they may also bend their knees to lift their foot higher than usual or swing their leg out to the side to avoid hitting their toes on the ground. Electrical stimulation has been proven to help patients manage symptoms associated with foot drop.

 

Treatment Options for Drop Foot

  • Occupational Therapy and/or Physical Therapy (Stretching and strengthening exercises)
  • Wearing an AFO or foot drop brace
  • Electrical stimulation

Using Electrical Stimulation to Treat Foot Drop

Weakness in the muscles that lift the foot (a movement called dorsiflexion) can be addressed through a comprehensive program using an electrical stimulation device.

The electrical stimulation device works by sending impulses to the muscles via surface electrodes that attach to your skin. This causes the muscles to contract and lift the foot. This movement can help build muscle mass, re-engage the brain, and help stretch the back of the calf, which can sometimes become tight.

A strengthening program with electrical stimulation can be done in a sitting or lying position. While the electrical stimulation unit is flexing your ankle, try to work with it and pull your toes and ankle up further, if possible. Try to aim for 30 minutes per day for this exercise. Both the SaeboStim One and SaeboStim Pro can be used during exercises for foot drop treatment to assist in muscle strengthening.

 

For those who have some ability to move the ankle, ETS (EMG Triggered Stimulation) can also be used as part of their rehabilitation. An added benefit to this modality is that the user has to actively participate in the movement. With this type of stimulation, the patient lifts the ankle as much as possible. The device detects this movement and when the user reaches a preset threshold, the electrical stimulation is triggered to increase the movement further. The Saebo Myotrac Infiniti is an e-stim device that can be used for this type of triggered stimulation to assist in the treatment of drop foot.

Foot Drop Treatment Using Reciprocal EMG Triggered Stimulation (RETS)

Some people have tightness in their calf muscles at the back of their lower leg. They may struggle to switch off and relax these muscles, which can add to the problem of the already weak muscles at the front of the lower leg. Our Saebo Myotrac Infiniti has a unique program to assist with this issue: Reciprocal EMG Triggered Stimulation or RETS.

During the RETS program, biofeedback is set up on the calf muscles to detect if the muscles are relaxed or tight/over-working.  When the user relaxes the calf muscle to a pre-set threshold, stimulation is provided to the muscles that lift the footusually the Anterior Tibialis on the front of the shin. This program helps the user learn how to relax the calf muscles before engaging the muscles that lift the foot while walking. This exercise can be also done while sitting as preparation for gait retraining.

Improve Foot Recovery with Aquatic Nerve Stimulation

The SaeboStim Spa provides circumferential “underwater” nerve stimulation that is consistent, comfortable, and evenly distributed throughout the affected area.  This form of stimulation surrounds the feet with a soothing and uniform level of current that treats the underlying conditions.

In addition to providing low-level sensory electrical stimulation for clients suffering from stroke and other neurological injuries, the SaeboStim Spa’s specialized waveforms provide treatment for additional conditions including peripheral neuropathy and nerve pain disorders. This breakthrough device can calm the nerves and increase blood flow which allows the nerve cells the potential to recover.

Combining Solutions: Using a Foot Drop Brace with Electrical Stimulation

SaeboStep and SaeboStim Spa. The perfect power couple.

Many survivors that suffer from foot drop may also experience spasticity, swelling, decreased sensation and/or pain. SaeboStim Spa’s advanced low level stimulation assists in improving many of these symptoms. Simply submerge the affected foot, along with the associated rubber electrodes, into the water for a 30-minute stimulation session daily. This is an excellent way to stay on top of your foot recovery. In addition to regaining more function from your foot, it is equally important to safely improve your gait without risk of falls. The out-of-shoe SaeboStep is a lightweight, uniquely designed foot drop brace that provides convenience and comfort while offering optimum foot clearance and support during walking. The fully adjustable dial tightens the cords to lift up your foot during the swing phase of walking.

 

SaeboStim Spa / SaeboStep Combo - Foot Drop Brace & Electrical Stimulation Bath

See the product bundle here. 

When should I not use electrical stimulation therapy to treat drop foot?

There are some medical conditions for which electrical stimulation therapy is not safe to use.

If you have a pacemaker, uncontrolled epilepsy, uncontrolled atrial fibrillation, cancer, or are pregnant, you should not use this type of therapy. When in doubt, contact your physician or a trained therapist for professional advice.

A Guide to Electrical Stimulation Therapy for Stroke Patients 

Six Foot Drop Exercises to Help You Get Back on Your Feet 

The Benefits of Gait Training During Stroke Recovery  

What is Drop Foot? Foot Drop Causes, Symptoms and Treatment  

How to Find the Perfect Foot Drop Brace/AFO for Foot Drop


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 providers 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.

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