Foot Drop

What is Foot Drop?

Characterized by an abnormal gait, foot drop is a condition where the front of the foot “drops” or toes drag while walking due to nerve damage or muscle weakness affecting the foot and ankle. Foot drop is rarely a standalone condition, but rather the result of either an underlying condition or a symptom another condition. Not specific to any age group, it can affect one foot or both feet.


If not the result of a traumatic injury, foot drop may be caused by weak muscles or tendons. Muscles may also become paralyzed due to a previous injury or preexisting condition. Considered a neuromuscular disorder, it can also be a symptom of radiating nerve damage, with the sciatic nerve, which travels from the lower back to the leg, being an example of a nerve that may affect sensitivity in the ankle or foot.

What are the Symptoms of Foot Drop?

Symptoms usually affect one foot but both feet can be affected.

Symptoms include

  • Lifting the knee higher when walking
  • Swinging legs in a wider gait
  • Tingling sensations or numbness
  • Difficulty walking or loss of balance

Foot Drop Causes

Foot drop is not a disease itself, but a symptom of a bigger problem. It may be permanent or temporary. It’s caused by paralysis or weakness of the muscles used to lift the front area of the foot. The causes are varied and can include the following:

Muscle/nerve disorders

Disorders that make muscles progressively deteriorate or weaken may lead to drop foot. They include polio, Lou Gehrig’s disease (lateral sclerosis), and muscular dystrophy.

Nerve injury

The most common cause of drop foot is when the peroneal nerve is injured. Some common causes of peroneal nerve damage or injury include sports injuries, diabetes, knee or hip replacement surgery, childbirth, spending long hours squatting or sitting cross-legged, and time spent wearing a leg cast. People suffering from diabetes are more likely to suffer nerve disorders related to foot drop.

Injury to the spine’s nerve roots may also lead to foot drop.

Spinal or brain disorders

Neurological disorders can lead to foot drop. These include cerebral palsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

How is Foot Drop Treated?

During an initial exam, a “drop test” may be performed in which a patient is asked to walk on their heels. If drooping of the forefront is noticed, further testing will likely be done to determine the source of the abnormality.

Treatment includes

  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise to improve range of motion
  • Management or treatment of a contributing condition
  • Braces or splints

Should foot drop be related to a problem elsewhere, such as a herniated disc pressing on nerves in the lower back, the condition may disappear on its own if the nerve is no longer compressed. Surgery may be necessary to fuse foot and ankle bones together or repair damage to tendons or muscles.

Foot Drop Prevention

In most cases, foot drop can’t be prevented, particularly where a neurological condition is the root cause. If your problem is caused by a neurological disorder, then it’s vital to perform exercises prescribed by your physiotherapist to improve your mobility and use an AFQ at the same time.

If muscle degenerative conditions run in your family, then you should consider the same exercises as those prescribed for people suffering from foot drop to build your muscles up in order to counteract the damage.

It’s also vital to understand the early signs of the problem so you can address it quickly.

For any questions regarding foot drop or other foot disorders, make sure to speak with your doctor or physician.