What is foot drop?
Foot drop is a common MS symptom. It is the dropping of the foot due to disruption in the nerve pathways between the lower legs and the brain. It makes it difficult to lift the front of the foot to the correct angle when walking, which then results in you lifting your advancing foot high in order for the toes to clear the ground. Foot drop can cause trips and falls because the foot hangs down and can drag and catch on uneven surfaces, rugs, furniture, items on the floor or door frames. This can affect your confidence and can make you feel vulnerable when out and about.
You might alter the way you walk to compensate for foot drop, which takes more effort and energy, leading to you feeling more tired more quickly. Over the course of some time, this altered way of walking can cause the tightening of muscles, with pain in the lower back or hip. To add to this, other nerve related symptoms of MS can compound the challenges of foot drop, for example problems with MS gait, MS spasticity, MS fatigue and tingling and numbness.
Fortunately, foot drop can often be managed with some changes to your lifestyle and some treatments. These can help to reduce your symptoms and make walking easier — it isn’t something which you have to endure without help.
What causes foot drop?
Foot drop in MS is not caused by the nerves within the leg muscles themselves, but rather it is caused by disruption of the nerve pathways to and from the brain. The leg and ankle muscles then become out of sync due to poor coordination and the foot can’t be lifted at the correct angle so that your foot slaps down or your toes drag.
What can I do if I have foot drop?
If you have MS foot drop there are ways you can manage and treat this symptom. Firstly, you can adapt your home to make it a safer environment by removing anything you might trip on or get a foot caught on, like rugs, clutter and coffee tables.
Then there are treatments available which will help you to improve your walking and stabilise your foot. The treatment will depend on the extent of the foot drop.
You can wear a splint or ankle-foot brace which supports your foot in the correct position. Some are worn around the leg up to the knee, while others are worn in shoes. The ankle foot orthosis (AFO) supports the foot at a 90-degree angle to the lower leg, but getting a bigger shoe to fit it can be a hassle.
Physiotherapy can help to strengthen the affected muscles.
You can ask your doctor about electrical nerve stimulation to help lift the foot in the form of small devices near the knee which send mild electrical stimuli to the muscles (FES). You can also ask about surgery (although spinal surgery does not usually help foot drop for people with MS).
An ankle-foot brace can also add support to the drop foot.
The OMS 7-Step Recovery Plan can help holistically, by improving a number of your MS symptoms which impact on MS drop foot. The steps within the plan include exercise which will help to improve flexibility and strengthen the leg muscles and changes to your diet to improve your overall health.
What should I do next?
If it seems like there is too much information and you don’t know where to start, read through our next steps – we can help you.