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Foot drop, or drop foot, is a term used to describe a difficulty in lifting the front part of the foot when walking. People who have foot drop typically drag their toes when they walk. It usually only happens to one foot, but it can happen to both feet and may be a sign of an underlying problem, such as a neurological disorder.

Most people with foot drop walk by lifting their knee as though they are walking up stairs (steppage gait). Treatment can help some people walk more normally and can help reduce or eliminate pain.

What Causes Foot Drop

Foot drop may be a result of the peroneal nerve, which runs from the lower back down the leg, being pinched or injured. This can occur for many reasons, such as damage to the spinal discs, injury of the knee or pelvis, or complications in childbirth. Foot drop is also a common symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS) and can affect people with other diseases, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, muscular dystrophy, and cerebral palsy. It can also be caused by stroke, sciatic nerve, and diabetes. Even kneeling or crossing your legs for a long period of time could cause temporary foot drop.

To determine a foot drop treatment, an orthopaedic surgeon will ask questions and perform a physical exam to learn about the patient’s symptoms. During this exam, the surgeon may ask the patient to walk normally as well as to try walking on their heels. He or she may check the leg muscles for weakness and ask about any pain or numbness. If the surgeon believes foot drop is being caused by an overgrowth of bone, a tumor, or a cyst pinching your nerve, he or she may want to get an X-ray, ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan. The surgeon may also order an electromyography (EMG) or nerve conduction study to track the electrical activity in your muscles and nerves.

When to Seek Foot Drop Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause of the foot drop. It’s important to know that sometimes, but not always, foot drop can resolve on its own, especially if caused by an injury that is healing.

An orthopaedic surgeon will likely recommend nonsurgical treatment options first, such as braces, shoe inserts (orthotics), foot splints, exercises, or physical therapy. There are also nerve stimulation techniques that can help some patients.

Although, if foot drop is due to an injury, it may be possible to repair the nerve damage to eliminate the problem. However, if foot drop is due to a disease or disorder, the condition may be permanent. If it is permanent, the orthopaedic surgeon may still have treatment options available to make the effects of foot drop more manageable.

If nonsurgical options prove unsuccessful, surgery may be recommended.

An orthopaedic surgeon may recommend one of several surgeries, depending on your situation, such as:

  • Decompression surgery
  • Nerve sutures or grafting
  • Nerve or tendon transfer
  • Fusing the foot and ankle joints

These surgeries often are performed in a hospital, usually using general anesthesia, although sometimes they may be outpatient procedures.

Following surgery, patients will go to a recovery room to be monitored while the anesthesia wears off. Recovery time varies, depending on the type of procedure and the general health condition prior to surgery. A cast will be placed on your foot, and it will be elevated during recovery.

After most procedures to correct foot drop, patients will need to use crutches and avoid putting any weight on the foot for several weeks or longer. During this time, exercises will be recommended to help reduce muscle tightness and swelling during the healing process. The orthopaedic surgeon may also recommend physical therapy to relearn gait, or a person's manner of walking.

Learn About Our Foot & Ankle Center at Tidewater Orthopaedics

Our Foot & Ankle Center is designed to provide comprehensive education and exceptional surgical care through the knowledge, experience, and expertise of our specialty-trained foot and ankle surgeon, Dr. Paul Maloof. He aims to treat his patients in the most conservative manner, reserving surgery only for cases when nonsurgical management is no longer an option. Dr. Maloof brings many advanced treatments to Tidewater Orthopaedics as the only full-time foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon in the region specializing in complex and comprehensive foot and ankle care, both surgical and nonsurgical. Dr. Maloof treats a wide range of injuries and conditions, including foot drop. To search the full list of injuries, conditions, and procedures he specializes in, click here

Why choose Tidewater Orthopaedics?

If you are considering treatment, you should seek out an orthopaedist with experience and training in foot deformities such as foot drop. With years of experience and advanced training, our esteemed foot and ankle surgeon at Tidewater Orthopaedics, Dr. Paul Maloof, is the unparalleled expert in accurately diagnosing and effectively treating foot injuries and conditions.

Dr. Paul Maloof has the knowledge, proficiency, and skill to accurately diagnose and effectively treat you so you can get back to your active lifestyle quickly and safely. We have locations in Hampton and Williamsburg to best accommodate your needs.