Drop foot is a condition affecting a person’s ability to lift the foot and toes when walking. An inability to raise the foot when walking can lead to trips and falls both when in the home and when outside and can be embarrassing and even result in serious injuries.
If you consider the injuries which a person can sustain as a result of tripping or falling, they can range from sprains to broken bones. When we fall our instinctive reaction is to hold out our arms to protect our head and body, which can lead to broken wrists and broken arms.
What are the causes of drop foot?
The root cause of drop foot is a weakness or damage to the muscles within the front of the leg controlling upwards movement and can be caused either an injury or as a result of a neurological condition.
From a neurological perspective, drop foot can be traced to disease or damage to the brain or spinal cord. Conditions such as a stroke, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy can all lead to drop foot, with other theories believing nerve damage in the leg having a major effect.
For more information on the condition visit our drop foot section.
What should I do if I have drop foot?
If you are experiencing the symptoms of drop foot then it is advisable to consult with a clinician. Early diagnosis can offer an increased chance of recovery as well as minimising the risk of serious injury from falling.
A clinician will be able to assess the severity of the condition and work with you during your rehabilitation, whether through physiotherapy or by using a foot orthosis.
Recovery from drop foot?
Recovery from drop foot is dependent on the root cause of the condition. If the condition manifests as a result of injury then there is a chance of recovery from physiotherapy, to strengthen the muscles, in conjunction with a foot orthosis such as the Foot Up. The extent to which control is returned to the foot will vary from person to person and be dependent on the severity of the initial injury.
Unfortunately there is no guaranteed cure from drop foot.
If drop foot occurs as a result of a neurological condition then unfortunately the patient can expect to have the condition for the rest of their life, though there are still a number of treatment options available to enhance confidence and increase mobility.
Treatment of drop foot
The two major treatment options for drop are that of physiotherapy and the use of a foot orthosis. Typically a combination of these will be offered in order to provide the best treatment for the patient.
What does physiotherapy offer?
A physiotherapist will work with you on a tailored training programme as part of your recovery, working to strengthen the foot muscles. The physio looks to strengthen your foot muscles as a means of regaining strength and control of the foot so that you are able to lift your foot when walking. It is important to note that physiotherapy treatment may not always prove fruitful and should be discussed with a physiotherapist before booking a course of treatment.
How does a foot orthosis work?
A foot orthosis is a popular form of treatment for drop foot, offering a patient the confidence and support they need to remain active. The main purpose of the orthosis is to prevent the foot from dropping, thereby offering increased mobility. There are a number of styles available depending on personal preference, each work in a slightly different way. It is also important to note that devices are not universally effective, therefore you should consult with a clinician on the best type of device to choose before buying one.
Some foot orthosis offer electrical stimulation whereby they are designed to mimic natural electrical impulses when walking which can manage the movement of the foot. Electrodes can be placed close to key nerves within the foot and combined with a sensor fitted in the shoe it triggers when walking to counteract the signs of drop foot.
When considering a brace or support there are two different options. The first is a simple and discreet support which attaches to your ankle and foot and simple prevents the foot from dropping. The Foot Up is discreet in that it can be worn under clothing and even comes in a range of colours to help blend in, with black and beige the two available.
The concept of the Foot Up is very simple, but effective in that the device is responsible for ensuring the foot does not drop when walking which can increase confidence and mobility. It is also available in a shoeless option to be even more discreet.
Another form of support is that of the Prolite AFO, a rigid structure which sits behind the leg and bends underneath the foot. The design is effectively a rigid exoskeleton of the leg and foot at a 90 degree angle, thereby physically preventing the foot from dropping. Whilst not as discreet as the Foot Up it remains a popular choice among patients.
The most important thing to remember when suffering from drop foot is that there are products on the market which can aid your mobility and give you the confidence to remain active. With foot orthosis options including the Foot Up, Prolite AFO and electrical stimulation products research and testing will ensure you select the right one for you and one which will offer the greatest set of benefits.
If you are ever unsure as to which option to take then speak with your doctor of physiotherapist.