Foot drop syndrome is a neuromuscular disorder characterized by weak muscles in the front of the lower leg. This can result in partial or total loss of control over the foot, thus affecting the ability to lift the foot at the ankle.
Damage to the nerve fibers that allow the flexing of the ankle and toes can cause several problems. For example, the toes point towards the floor when the foot is lifted up from the ground. When patients attempt to walk, they tend to drag the foot along the ground. They further compensate by lifting the knee higher than usual.
Foot drop can often be the sign of a major underlying complication, rather than a ‘simple’ inability to raise the foot. It can be caused by a nerve injury, spinal or brain disorder or muscle disorder. It can affect one foot or both feet and can be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause. Physical therapy plays an important role in the management of foot drop. It allows patients to experience better mobility, which leads to an improved quality of life.
Exercise is the primary treatment for patients with foot drop. Strengthening exercises of the muscles within the foot and the lower limbs help maintain muscle tone. Such exercises will help strengthen and stretch the foot while returning mobility to the ankle.
Stretching exercises are an excellent treatment for foot drop. Physical therapists will advise patients to sit on the floor, place a towel around the foot, hold onto both ends and gently pull the towel towards them. This helps stretch the muscles of the calf and foot. Other exercises include leg flexes and toe curls. Several sets and repetitions are required to stimulate the muscles sufficiently.
In some patients with foot drop, physical therapists may advise a treatment regime that includes electrical stimulation of the nerves and muscle fibers. This helps generate electrical impulses within the muscles and can, to an extent, help increase the tone and the contractility.
A gait abnormality is a deviation from normal walking. Gait training is recommended for those patients with significant gait problems. This treatment helps a patient walk more efficiently and improve stability by incorporating different strength and balance exercises. At times, gait training requires the use of walkers, canes and parallel bars to safeguard the patient.
For individuals with limited control over their foot muscles, an “Ankle-Foot-Orthosis (AFO)” may also be used to help improve gait. AFO are L-shaped braces designed to support the function of the ankle and foot by keeping them perpendicular (at an angle of 90 degrees). This helps to keep the foot off of the ground while walking.
Foot drop can be rather debilitating for patients and can affect mobility to a great degree. While there are several causes of foot drop, physical therapy is the most effective treatment option. Long-term outcomes vary but many patients can regain significant function and mobility following a physical therapy plan of care. As your trusted physical therapy office with several years of experience treating muscular and neurological conditions, we know what it takes to effectively manage and treat this condition. Don’t hesitate, reach out to us today and give us the opportunity to show you how physical therapy can change your life.
Dr. Daniel Skulavik, PT, DPT, OCS, is with Advanced Physical Therapy located in the Food Lion Shopping Center, Clinton.