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.
Now for the science bit…
The dorsiflexor muscles for the ankle and foot include the extensor digitorum longus (EDL), the extensor hallucis longus (EHL) and the tibialis anterior (TA). These muscles act together to help the foot swing clear of the floor during normal gait and to control the foot plantar flexion during the initial ‘foot to the ground’ contact.
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.
Diagnosis of drop foot can be quite simple. It may just require your GP to watch you walking and to make a brief examination of your leg muscles. Sometimes, imaging such as x-rays, ultrasounds or computerised topography (CT) scans will also be used. There is no need to be afraid of the process of diagnosis.
For more information on the condition visit our drop foot section.
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.
The two major treatment options for drop are that of physiotherapy and the use of a foot orthosis (technical term) or drop foot brace. Typically a combination of these will be offered in order to provide the best outcomes.
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 drop foot brace work?
It has many different names, from drop foot brace to foot drop splint to foot brace but they are all the same thing – so don’t let the terminology put you off, it’s the products itself you need to focus on.
Whatever the name used, they are a popular form of treatment for drop foot, offering a patient the confidence and support they need to remain active. Their main purpose is to prevent the foot from dropping, thereby offering increased mobility (and reducing the risk of you tripping / falling over).
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 which might suit you best before buying one.
Electrical stimulation devices
The main purpose of these types of devices it to stimulate the relevant nerves in the foot so that they contract and don’t allow the foot to drop. The electrodes can be placed under the skin in some cases but are triggered by a senor in the person’s shoe.
This type of device is designed to mimic the natural response of the body to walking but doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s important to try different things to find the right one for you.
AFO’s (Ankle Foot Orthosis)
An AFO is a technical term for a drop foot brace which connects the foot and the ankle to essentially prevent the foot from dropping, of which there are a number of options:
The Prolite AFO is a rigid design manufactured from injection moulded polypropylene, with the 'L' shape preventing your foot from dropping, literally. It sits behind the leg and bends beneath the foot effectively offering a rigid exoskeleton keeping the leg and foot at a 90 degree angle, thereby physically preventing the foot from dropping. Whilst not as discreet as some of the other braces on the market they remain a popular choice.
The Foot Up® is a discreet alternative 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 by connecting the foot and the ankle via a material wrap. It is also available in a shoeless option to be even more discreet.
The Foot-Up remains a popular drop foot brace, having sold millions worldwide since it was first launched back in 2008.
The Rebound Foot Up® is an upgrade on the original version, having launched in 2017 with a host of new features, including:
- Dynamic:New strap with adjustable tension
- Increased Control:Adjustable medio/lateral control
- Patient Friendly:Single handed use, easily adjustable, allows barefoot walking or wearing sandals
- Discreet:Contoured shape
It’s still based on the same discreet design and key functionality in stopping your foot from dropping, but it’s biggest selling point is in being able to put it on and take it off with just one hand.
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 drop foot braces including the Prolite AFO, Foot Up, Rebound Foot-Up and electrical stimulation products it’s essential that you test each type and you select the 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 but remain positive and keep working towards your goal as drop foot shouldn’t stop you from remaining active and enjoying life.