Foot Drop Treatments

Treatment for foot drop will vary depending on the cause. Treating the underlying cause as effectively as possible should always be part of the foot drop treatment plan.

Typical treatments for foot drop include:

  • Foot drop braces/splints (orthoses)
  • Physical therapy
  • Non-surgical treatments
  • Surgery

Foot Drop Braces and Splints (Orthoses)

An Ankle-Foot-Orthosis (AFO) can be used to keep the dropped foot off the ground while walking if the patient has the functional use of their muscles, thus creating a more even and normal gait. Orthoses, such as a drop foot brace or splint, are often the first line of foot drop treatment by providing stabilization of the ankle and the foot.

More specifically, a brace for drop foot is used to keep the ankle at 90 degrees and prevent the foot from dropping towards the ground. In turn, the drop foot brace typically makes it much easier for the patient to walk and more difficult for him or her to trip at the toes as a result of the dropped foot. The most common type of foot drop brace is made of polypropylene and is inserted into a shoe.

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Physical Therapy as a Foot Drop Treatment

In situations where foot drop has caused a significant gait disturbance, physical therapy may be required. Specialized physical therapy for foot drop may include gait training that essentially teaches the patient how to walk all over again.

In less dramatic situations, specific exercises may simply be advised to help the affected muscles.

Non-Surgical Foot Drop Treatments and Surgery

If a lower back condition is causing the dropped foot, specific non-surgical or surgical foot drop treatments may apply, depending on the condition:

  • Herniated disc. In cases where a bulging or herniated disc is found to be causing the foot drop, nonsurgical treatments such as physical therapy and fluoroscopically guided epidural steroid injections may be appropriate. In cases that do not respond to more conservative measures, the disc may need to be surgically removed to take the pressure off the nerve.

If the peroneal nerve is damaged by any of the other following conditions, different procedures may be considered:

  • Spinal Stenosis. Non-surgical treatments for spinal stenosis include a suitable exercise program developed by a physical therapist, activity modification (avoiding activities that cause advanced symptoms of spinal stenosis), epidural injections, and anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or aspirin. If necessary, a decompression surgery that is minimally destructive of normal structures may be used to treat spinal stenosis.
  • Spondylolithesis. Non-surgical treatments for this condition are very similar to the non-surgical methods described above for spinal stenosis. Spinal fusion surgery may be required to treat this condition, with many patients improving their function and experiencing less pain.
  • Vertebral Fractures. Nearly half of all vertebral fractures occur without any significant back pain. If pain medication, progressive activity, or a brace or support does not help with the fracture, two minimally invasive procedures may be options:

Any patient who suspects drop foot is advised to consult with a medical professional as soon as possible to seek appropriate treatment and avoid possible complications.

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Written by Grant Cooper, MD