Treatment for Foot Drop Caused by Nerve Injury

woman walking barefoot on white floorFoot drop makes it difficult to lift the front part of the foot and can cause the foot to drag on the ground when walking. It can be the result of an underlying problem that is either neurological or muscular and can be diagnosed and treated by a nerve decompression specialist such as Dr. Williams.

Signs and Causes of Drop Foot

The most obvious sign of a drop foot is dragging the foot while you walk. It can also cause an abnormal gait as you raise your knee higher than normal when walking in order to prevent your foot from dragging. You might also make a slapping sound when your foot hits the ground as you walk. Another sign of foot drop is numbness on the top of the foot or toes.

Foot drop can affect one or both feet, depending on the cause of the problem. Some causes of foot drop are:

  • Nerve injury or nerve compression
  • Muscular disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or muscular dystrophy
  • Brain or spinal cord disorder such as stroke or multiple sclerosis 

When foot drop is caused by a nerve injury, it is most commonly due to damage of the peroneal nerve. This nerve is a branch of the sciatic nerve system and is what controls the muscles that help lift your feet. It is located close to the surface and can easily become injured or damaged. When the peroneal nerve is injured, you may have pain and numbness along with difficulty lifting your foot.

There are various activities that can cause peroneal nerve compression and put you at a higher risk for foot drop, such as:

  • Sitting with your legs crossed
  • Kneeling or squatting for long periods of time
  • Wearing a plaster cast or splint that is too tight on your lower leg
  • Injury or trauma to the knee
  • Having surgery such as knee or hip replacement
  • Having extreme weight loss
  • Frequently wearing high boots
  • Sports injury
  • Childbirth

Foot Drop Diagnosis

To diagnose foot drop, a physical exam will be done to analyze the way you walk and to check for signs of muscle weakness. Imaging tests such as an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan may be ordered to check for underlying causes such as a bone growth or a tumor. To determine the extent of nerve damage, a nerve conduction study may be done as well as electromyography (EMG) to measure electrical activity in the nerves and muscles.

Treatment Options

Once the cause of foot drop is determined, treatment options can be discussed. Treating the underlying condition can often help improve or eliminate foot drop. If the underlying condition cannot be treated, other options may be recommended. These may include:

  • Physical therapy exercises can help strengthen the muscles in the legs and improve issues with limited range of motion.
  • Nerve stimulation can be done on the nerves that lift the foot to improve foot drop.
  • Braces, splints, or custom orthotics can be used to support the leg and hold your foot in the proper position.

If conservative treatments do not improve foot drop, Dr. Williams may recommend surgery to resolve the problem. There are various surgeries that can be done for foot drop. These include:

  • Nerve decompression surgery can be done to relieve pressure on the nerve.
  • Surgery can be performed to remove any bones or tumors that may be pressing into the peroneal nerve.
  • Fusion surgery can be done to fuse bones in the foot or ankle together to hold the foot in place.
  • Another surgical procedure that Dr. Williams has had success with is a peroneal nerve transfer. In this type of surgery, a nerve is transferred from another location, such as the back of the leg, and attached to the nerve used to lift up the foot.  

If you have signs of foot drop or are having difficulty lifting your foot, contact Dr. Williams for an evaluation. To schedule an appointment in the Baltimore office, contact us at (410) 709-3868 or fill out our contact form online.