How to Treat Foot Drop with Electrical Stimulation

Scott Thompson
Thursday, August 20th, 2020


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.

Treatment Options for Drop Foot

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.

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.



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