Diagnosing Causes of Foot Drop

When diagnosing foot drop, doctors typically rely on a scale that rates foot mobility from zero to 5; zero referring to complete paralysis and 5 signifying complete foot mobility.

As there are many potential causes of foot drop, a doctor must first pinpoint its underlying source. To diagnose the cause, a typical foot drop diagnostic process includes the following steps:

  • A patient history, including the specific foot drop symptoms, past illnesses and use of any medications.
  • A physical exam, including an examination of the visual appearance and altered behavior of the affected foot and leg, as well as any signs of muscle atrophy.
  • Additional tests including, as needed:
    • Imaging studies to examine the surrounding areas of damaged nerves (e.g. an MRI)
    • See Introduction to Diagnostic Studies for Back Pain

    • Electrodiagnostic studies (EMG/NCS) to distinguish between the different types of nerve damage
    • See Electromyography (EMG)

    • A blood analysis for a possible metabolic cause like diabetes or alcoholism
    • Fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin, and nitrogen and creatinine tests

What Type of Doctor Diagnoses Foot Drop?

Foot drop can be diagnosed by many types of physicians. If the lower back is suspected as a cause, it may be advisable to see a spine specialist, such as a physiatrist, orthopedic surgeon, or neurosurgeon who focuses his or her practice on spine medicine.

See Specialists Who Treat Back Pain

Once a cause is determined, various foot drop treatments may be implemented depending on the specific patient's condition.

Written by Grant Cooper, MD