Foot Drop Symptoms, Steppage Gait & Other Warning Signs

Foot drop typically affects the muscles responsible for moving the ankle and foot upward, specifically the anterior tibialis, extensor hallucis longus and extensor digitorum longus.

With foot drop, these muscles are inhibited from performing several functions during a normal walking stride, including swinging the toes up from the ground at the start of a stride and controlling the foot after the heel is planted near the end of a stride. Consequently, the most recognized foot drop symptom occurs: high steppage gait.

High Steppage Gait from Foot Drop

The most common symptom of drop foot, a high steppage gait is often characterized by raising the thigh up in an exaggerated fashion while walking, as if climbing the stairs.

High steppage gait is associated with one of the following:

  • Dragging of the foot and toes
  • Scraping of the toes across the ground
  • Uncontrolled slapping of the toes against the ground.
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The affected muscles are usually used to keep the foot off the ground during the swing-through portion of walking. When these are weak, they cannot keep the foot up and the foot will scrape across the ground if the foot is not picked up high.

Other Foot Drop Symptoms

Some other foot drop symptoms may include:

  • An exaggerated, swinging hip motion. With foot drop, the hip may swing out in an effort to counteract the toes from catching the ground.
  • Limp foot. Specifically, a foot that flops away from the body is another common drop foot symptom.
  • Tingling, numbness & slight pain in the foot. Ranging from a slight tingling sensation to a complete lack of feeling in the foot, these foot drop symptoms may make everyday activities like walking and driving a car very difficult. Such foot pain may be linked to the lower back, specifically to a series of symptoms known as sciatica.
  • Difficulty with certain activities requiring the use of the front of the foot. As just one example, foot drop may make an activity like climbing the stairs especially difficult.
  • Muscle atrophy in the leg. Muscle atrophy refers to a muscle decreasing in mass and weakening. As the anterior tibialis, extensor hallucis longus and the extensor digitorum longus muscles are most affected by foot drop, atrophy may occur and make it much harder to exert force with the leg and the foot.

As there are various symptoms of foot drop, there are many different drop foot causes that merit understanding and evaluation when seeking treatment.

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Written by Grant Cooper, MD