Foot drop is real

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Foot drop is real

It can affect athletes and non-athletes alike.

Foot drop, also called drop foot, is a real condition. It is a difficulty lifting the ankle off the ground which leads to dragging of the foot while walking. It is not a disease, but a sign of an underlying neurological, muscular, or anatomical problem.

Foot drop made national news in the sports world in 2020 with the injury to Alex Smith, veteran NFL quarterback for the Washington Football Team. His foot drop resulted from numerous surgeries to repair his lower leg after a severe injury, and the cleaning of an infection that destroyed surrounding tissue. Other professional athletes have competed while dealing with foot drop in recent years, including basketball players.

According to the Mayo Clinic, causes of foot drop can 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 (peroneal nerve). This can occur from habitually crossing the legs, prolonged kneeling, or wearing a leg cast. A “pinched nerve” in the spine also can cause foot drop.
  • Nerve compression. The nerve responsible for the foot and ankle movement may be compressed in the spinal canal where it originates from a disc herniation, stenosis, or fracture, or other condition.
  • Muscle or nerve disorders. Forms of muscular dystrophy, an inherited disease that causes progressive muscle weakness, can contribute to foot drop. So can other disorders, such as polio.
  • Brain and spinal cord disorders. Disorders that affect the spinal cord or brain — such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis — may cause foot drop.

The American Stroke Association adds that foot drop is a common challenge caused by stroke. Stroke survivors commonly compensate for foot drop by adjusting the way they walk. This may involve bending the hip and knee excessively to lift the foot higher. With food drop, an individual may be prone to tripping, falling, and having difficulty climbing stairs.

Foot drop can affect one or both feet. It is sometimes temporary, but can be permanent. Treatments can include braces or splints, physical therapy, nerve stimulation, and surgery.