Drop Foot

What is drop foot, and how is it treated?

Do you notice that your toes tend to drag when you walk? If so, you are not alone. You may have a condition known as drop foot.

With over 80 years of experience, our board-certified specialists at OrthoNeuro can answer any questions that you may have about foot drop, provide an accurate diagnosis and render treatment. Our experts provide the highest quality of care because it is what you deserve.

Schedule an appointment at one of our convenient locations throughout Columbus, Ohio today!

What is Foot Drop?

Foot drop (also called drop foot or foot drop palsy) is a symptom of a variety of underlying medical conditions due to muscle weakness or paralysis of the muscles. If you have foot drop, the front part of your foot will not be raised normally when you take a step.

Causes of Foot Drop

The most common cause of foot drop is damage to the common peroneal nerve (a branch of your sciatic nerve). Your peroneal nerve runs from the outside of your knee down to your ankle and then divides into two branches at the top of your foot. It supplies sensation and movement to your lower leg, feet, and toes.

A peroneal nerve injury can be caused by a traumatic injury, such as a car accident or a fall. Brain and spinal cord disorders such as stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — can also lead to damage in the common peroneal nerve and result in foot drop.

Lumbar radiculopathy can also cause drop foot. Other causes may include diabetes, injury to your nerve roots, peripheral neuropathy, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, and certain types of tumors. Crossing your legs can also damage your peroneal nerve, resulting in foot drop.

What Are the Symptoms of Foot Drop?

The main symptoms of foot drop involve an inability to lift the front part of the foot while walking or running.

Symptoms of foot drop may include:

  • Difficulty lifting your toes
  • A floppy sensation in the ankle
  • Muscle weakness in your legs and ankles

You may notice that you tend to lift your knee higher to avoid dragging your toes. In rare cases, foot drop can lead to an unnatural gait pattern, pain, and/or foot deformities.

Tests and Exams Used to Diagnose Drop Foot

Diagnosis of foot drop usually includes a physical exam which can show the following:

  • Atrophy of your foot and leg muscles
  • Difficulty lifting your foot and toes
  • Loss of muscle control

Your specialist will also thoroughly review your medical history. They may order the following imaging tests:

  • X-rays
  • Magnetic resonance imaging MRI
  • Ultrasound
  • Electromyography (EMG)

Nerve conduction studies may also be performed. These nerve conduction tests show how fast electrical signals move through the peripheral nerve.

Since there are many underlying causes that can result in foot drop, our specialists use the latest techniques and technologies to provide you with an accurate diagnosis.

How is Foot Drop Treated?

The form of treatment you receive for foot drop depends on the underlying cause. For some, treating the cause will cure foot drop.

If it is caused by a chronic or ongoing illness, it may be permanent. Physical and occupational therapy is generally used to strengthen the affected muscles and improve range of motion.

Treatment for foot drop may also include:

  • Leg and foot braces/splints to keep your foot in a more normal position
  • Nerve stimulation devices
  • Orthotics (custom-made shoe inserts to support the foot)
  • Medications to help relieve pain or reduce inflammation

Foot surgery may be required to relieve pressure on your peroneal nerve or to repair it. If you have long-term foot drop, your specialist may recommend fusing your ankle or foot bones. They may also recommend tendon surgery.

The Prognosis for Foot Drop

The prognosis for foot drop depends on the underlying cause. In cases of trauma, recovery may take several months and include physical therapy to strengthen the affected muscles.

When Should I Contact a Medical Professional?

You should contact a doctor if you:

  • Are unable to lift your foot or feet in the way that you were able to in the past
  • Notice that your toes drag
  • Have ankle or foot weakness

Your medical professional can help determine what is causing foot drop and provide the necessary treatment.

Overall, foot drop is a condition that can lead to difficulty walking and pain. It is important to seek medical attention. With a proper diagnosis of the cause of foot drop and treatment, many people have experienced improved mobility and quality of life.

Schedule an appointment with our board-certified specialists at OrthoNeuro today! For your convenience, we have multiple offices located throughout Columbus, OH. We look forward to providing you with the relief that you deserve!


Medically reviewed by Larry T. Todd, D.O.

Foot, Ankle, and Podiatry Specialists


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