Foot Drop Syndrome

What is foot drop syndrome?

Foot drop syndrome describes the inability to raise the front part of the foot due to weakness or paralysis of the muscles that lift the foot. As a result, individuals with foot drop scuff their toes along the ground or bend their knees to lift their foot higher than usual to avoid the scuffing, which causes what is called a “steppage gait."

Foot drop can be unilateral (affecting one foot) or bilateral (affecting both feet). Foot drop is a symptom of an underlying problem and is either temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.

Causes include:

  • Neurodegenerative disorders of the brain that cause muscular problems, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, and cerebral palsy
  • Motor neuron disorders such as polio, some forms of spinal muscular atrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease)
  • Injury to the nerve roots, such as in spinal stenosis
  • Peripheral nerve disorders such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease or acquired peripheral neuropathy
  • Local compression or damage to the peroneal nerve as it passes across the fibular bone below the knee
  • Muscle disorders, such as muscular dystrophy or myositis

Treatment depends on the specific cause of foot drop. The most common treatment is to support the foot with lightweight leg braces and shoe inserts, called ankle-foot orthotics. Exercise therapy to strengthen the muscles and maintain joint motion also helps to improve gait. Devices that electrically stimulate the peroneal nerve during footfall are appropriate for a small number of individuals with foot drop. In cases with permanent loss of movement, surgery that fuses the foot and ankle joint or that transfers tendons from stronger leg muscles is occasionally performed.

Foot drop caused by trauma or nerve damage usually has partial or even complete recovery. For progressive neurological disorders, foot drop will be a symptom that is likely to continue as a lifelong disability. People with foot drop are more likely to fall.

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Learn About Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are studies that allow us to learn more about disorders and improve care. They can help connect patients with new and upcoming treatment options.

How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with foot drop syndrome?

Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about foot drop syndrome and related disorders.  Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with foot drop syndrome at Clinicaltrials.gov.

Where can I find more information about foot drop syndrome?

Information on may be available from the following resource:

MedlinePlus