Foot drop is a general term that describes a difficulty in lifting the front part of the foot. It's often caused by compression of a nerve.
Foot drop, sometimes called drop foot, is a general term for difficulty lifting the front part of the foot. If you have foot drop, the front of your foot might drag on the ground when you walk.
Foot drop isn't a disease. Rather, it is a sign of an underlying neurological, muscular or anatomical problem.
Sometimes foot drop is temporary, but it can be permanent. If you have foot drop, you might need to wear a brace on your ankle and foot to support the foot and hold it in position.
Foot drop makes it difficult to lift the front part of the foot, so it might drag on the floor when you walk. To help the foot clear the floor, a person with foot drop may raise the thigh more than usual when walking, as though climbing stairs. This unusual kind of walking, called steppage gait, might cause the foot to slap down onto the floor with each step. In some cases, the skin on the top of the foot and toes feels numb.
Depending on the cause, foot drop can affect one or both feet.
If your toes drag on the floor when you walk, consult your doctor.
Foot drop is caused by weakness or paralysis of the muscles involved in lifting the front part of the foot. Causes of foot drop might include:
Nerve injury. The most common cause of foot drop is compression of a nerve in the leg that controls the muscles involved in lifting the foot. This nerve is called the peroneal nerve. A serious knee injury can lead to the nerve being compressed. It can also be injured during hip or knee replacement surgery, which may cause foot drop.
A nerve root injury — "pinched nerve" — in the spine also can cause foot drop. People who have diabetes are more susceptible to nerve disorders, which are associated with foot drop.
The peroneal nerve controls the muscles that lift the foot. This nerve runs near the surface of the skin on the side of the knee closest to the hand. Activities that compress this nerve can increase the risk of foot drop. Examples include:
Foot drop is usually diagnosed during a physical exam. Your health care provider will watch you walk and check your leg muscles for weakness. Your provider also may check for numbness on your shin and on the top of your foot and toes.
Foot drop is sometimes caused by a mass pushing on a nerve. This can be an overgrowth of bone in the spinal canal or a tumor or cyst pressing on the nerve in the knee or spine. Imaging tests can help pinpoint these types of problems.
Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies measure electrical activity in the muscles and nerves. These tests can be uncomfortable, but they're useful in determining the location of the damage along the affected nerve.
Treatment for foot drop depends on the cause. If the cause is successfully treated, foot drop might improve or even disappear. If the cause can't be treated, foot drop can be permanent.
Treatment for foot drop might include:
The most common type of foot drop is caused by injury to the peroneal nerve, which controls the muscles that lift the foot. Foot drop can be temporary or permanent. A brace can help hold the foot in position.
Because foot drop can increase your risk of tripping and falling, consider taking these precautions around your house:
You're likely to start by seeing your family care provider. Depending on the suspected cause of foot drop, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in brain and nerve disorders, called a neurologist.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Make a list of:
For foot drop, questions to ask your care provider include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your care provider is likely to ask questions, such as: