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How to Spot Foot Drop and Possible Causes – VIM Health

Image of legs with an FES machine attached to the right leg. text in a white box that reads: How to spot foot drop and possible causes - Vim Health

In this article, VIM Health looks at how to spot Foot Drop, its possible causes and treatment. Foot Drop, also known as Drop Foot, is a medical condition characterized by the inability to lift the front part of the foot, resulting in a dragging or slapping gait while walking. There are several symptoms of Foot Drop, which we will discuss now, along with the possible causes.

How to spot Foot Drop

Foot drop can be detected by observing certain signs and symptoms. Here are some indicators to look out for.

Difficulty lifting the front part of the foot: The hallmark sign of Foot Drop is the inability to lift the toes or the front part of the foot while walking. Each step can result in dragging or slapping your foot on the ground.

Changes in gait pattern (walking pattern): Individuals with Foot Drop often exhibit an altered gait pattern. You may lift your leg higher than usual to compensate for the drop foot or swing your leg outward in a circular motion to clear the toes while walking.

Tripping or stumbling: Due to the lack of foot dorsiflexion, the upward movement of the foot, you may frequently trip or stumble, especially while walking on uneven surfaces or stairs.

Weakness or numbness in the foot or leg: Foot Drop can be accompanied by weakness or numbness in the affected foot or leg. You may experience a lack of muscle control or reduced sensation in the affected area.

Muscle atrophy: Prolonged Foot Drop can lead to muscle wasting or atrophy in the leg and foot muscles. This can result in visibly smaller muscle size or decreased muscle bulk.

Compensatory movements: To compensate for Foot Drop, you may exaggerate movements, such as lifting your knee higher or swinging your leg outward, to clear your foot during walking.

What causes foot drop?

Once you know how to spot Foot Drop, you can look at possible causes. According to the national library of Medicine, Foot drop is a symptom of an underlying problem, which can be temporary or permanent depending on the condition. Here are some possible causes:

Nerve Compression or Injury:

One of the most common causes of foot drop is damage or compression of the peroneal nerve, which controls the muscles responsible for lifting the foot. This can occur due to trauma, such as a fracture or dislocation of the leg or ankle, or from prolonged pressure on the nerve, as in the case of crossing the legs for an extended period.

Nerve Disorders: 

Certain medical conditions can affect the nerves and lead to Foot Drop. Peripheral neuropathy, which is damage to the peripheral nerves often caused by diabetes, can result in muscle weakness or loss of sensation in the foot and leg. Other nerve disorders, such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease or Guillain-Barré syndrome, can cause Foot Drop.

Muscle Disorders: 

Conditions that affect the lower leg muscles can contribute to Foot Drop. Muscular dystrophy, a group of genetic disorders characterized by progressive muscle weakness and degeneration, can lead to foot drop as the muscles responsible for foot movement weaken. Similarly, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or polio can affect the muscles and result in foot drop.

Spinal Cord Injuries: 

Damage or diseases that affect the spinal cord can disrupt the signals sent to the muscles controlling foot movement. Conditions like spinal cord injury, spinal stenosis (spinal canal narrowing), or herniated discs can lead to foot drop.

Stroke:

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted, damaging brain cells. Depending on the area of the brain affected, a stroke can cause weakness or paralysis in various parts of the body, including the foot and leg muscles.

Tumours: 

Tumours, whether benign or malignant, in the brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nerves can pressure the nerves and lead to Foot Drop.

Treatment for Foot Drop depends on the underlying cause and whether it is permanent or temporary. An initial assessment with VIM Health would involve addressing the primary condition and creating a bespoke rehabilitation physiotherapy program to strengthen muscles and improve gait. 

Foot Drop Awareness Day is on 22nd September 2023 this year, and to help raise awareness, Neuro Rehab Centre PhysioFunction will be offering free assessments for a limited number of people with Foot Drop. If you would like to sign up for a free assessment and the chance to win a foot brace, you can contact rehab@physiofunction.co.uk. 

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