Foot Drop

Photo of an elderly female patient doing physical therapy with a therapist

Foot drop, sometimes called “drop foot,” is the inability to lift the front part of the foot. While walking, if you have foot drop, you drag your toes along the ground, or bend your knees to lift your foot higher than usual to avoid the dragging. Foot drop may be temporary or permanent, and it can occur in one or both feet.

Foot drop is common after a stroke. It is a weakness or paralysis that limits your ability to raise the front part of your foot. The foot or ankle drops down when the leg is lifted to take a step. If you have foot drop you may trip and fall if your foot and ankle are not supported by a brace at all times.

Foot drop can result when nerves are damaged during a stroke. The muscles are rarely damaged, but become weak because of lack of use following a stroke. Partial or complete recovery is possible with the help of rehabilitative therapy. Physical therapy is central in strengthening muscles and joints.

Treatment varies as does the severity of drop foot after a stroke. A lot depends on your activity level and willingness to engage in long-term physical therapy to strengthen the affected muscles. Active movement and exercise helps to strengthen the connections between the muscle and the brain.

The assistance of a plastic brace, also known as an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO), is very helpful. These braces support the foot and ankle to help minimize tripping and reduce fall risks.

Physical therapy and ankle-foot orthotics are two of the three main treatments for foot drop; electrical stimulation is the third. With neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES), your leg muscle is directly stimulated. This helps your nerves fire, making your muscles contract. Over time, the idea is that your leg muscles will be retrained.

While the same approach may not work for each stroke survivor, trial and error can help doctors and physical therapists figure out the best possible therapies for you.