Addressing Underlying Causes of Foot Drop

Causes of Foot DropStop dragging your feet! The phrase usually means that you are moving too slowly, wasting time, or procrastinating. However, if you have foot drop, you literally have difficulty picking up your feet as you walk. The condition, also known as drop foot, causes you to drag your toes with every step as a result of weakened or paralyzed muscles. It can happen to one or both feet, and at any age. Finding the underlying cause of the condition dictates the way in which it can be treated.

Showing Signs

Because of the inability to lift the front of your foot, the way in which you walk—or your gait—may become altered. Oftentimes you will lift your thigh higher than normal, as if you are climbing stairs. Your foot may also make a slapping sound on the floor when it comes down. In some cases, your toes and the top of your foot may feel numb.

Digging Deeper

Foot drop is actually a symptom of an underlying neurological, muscular, or anatomical issue. It can be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause, which can fall into one of three categories:

  • Nerve Injury—The most common cause is the compression of the nerve that is involved in lifting your foot. This nervis is called the Peroneal nerve and damage to it can occur in the knee, shin, or lower back, or as a result of long-term nerve damage due to diabetes. It may be characterized by pain and numbness on the top of the foot and toes. Other possibilities that can lead to its compression are sports injuries, hip or knee replacement surgery, child birth, extreme weight loss, and spending long periods of time in a squatting or cross-legged position.

  • Muscle Disorders—Conditions that cause your muscles to progressively deteriorate or weaken can also be the reason behind foot drop. These include various forms of muscle dystrophy which is genetic, polio, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).

  • Brain and Spinal Cord Disorders—Additional contributing factors include neurological conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and ALS.

Pinpointing the Problem

While there are specific tests which can determine underlying conditions, X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs may also be used to establish the source of the problem. These images can help determine if there is an overgrowth of bone in the spinal canal or knee, or if the nerve is being compressed by a cyst or tumor. Other means of diagnosis include Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies. These measure electrical activity in the nerves and muscles, and are useful in finding the location of the damage along the nerve.

Stomping It Out

With treatment of the underlying condition, foot drop may improve or completely go away on its own. If the condition behind the problem cannot be treated affectively, however, other treatments may be necessary. These can range from orthotic shoe inserts to surgery.  The most common method is the use of braces or splints to keep your ankle and foot in proper position. Other options include physical therapy exercises to strengthen muscles and improve range-of-motion, nerve stimulation, surgery on the nerve, or fusing bones together for stability. 

If you are having trouble lifting your foot, it is important that you visit Podiatry Associates, P.C. as soon as possible to determine the cause. Early treatment of foot drop could improve your chances of recovery. Call (303) 805-5156 to make an appointment with Dr. Oberholtzer-Classen or any member of our team today. You can also reach us online, or at one of our convenient locations in Castle Pines and Parker, CO.

Dr. Cynthia Oberholtzer-Classen, DPM
Founder and Owner of Podiatry Associates, PC