Coping with Foot Drop

Posted by Teresa Bitler

Many stroke survivors experience foot drop, the inability to raise their foot while walking. If you are one of them, therapy, orthotics, and electrical stimulation can help you regain mobility and maximize functionality.

Reconnecting and Strengthening

Foot drop typically occurs after a stroke because the connection from the brain to the muscles needed to lift the toes is damaged. As the muscles remain inactive, weakness compounds the problem.

People with foot drop are at risk for falls and often compensate for dragging their foot by hiking their hip, bending their knee, or using other coping methods to gain additional clearance, efforts that can affect speed, energy, and balance.

Therapy can be an effective way to treat foot drop by first getting the patient mobile, and then working to reactivate the connection between the brain and the muscles needed to lift the foot.

Orthotics for Increased Mobility

Some stroke survivors benefit from an ankle foot orthotic (AFO), a support typically made of flexible plastic that fits inside the shoe and keeps the toes in a lifted position. Because the foot doesn’t drag, it reduces the risk of fall and allows the wearer to be more independent.

Although AFOs increase mobility, some can limit ankle range of motion, inhibiting full recovery, according to some researchers. They can also be bulky, uncomfortable, and if not fitted properly, produce pressure sores.

Electrical Stimulation as an Option

Functional electrical stimulation (FES) devices are another option. These devices strap on just under the knee and deliver a mild electrical stimulation that activates the muscles responsible for lifting the foot. Ideally, over time, it will strengthen your muscles, reactivate the brain-muscle connection, and help you to walk normally on your own.

The two most common FES devices are WalkAide and the Bioness L300. Both reduce the risk of falls, promote a more natural stepping motion, and increase endurance.

Other Helpful Devices

Several other devices can prevent foot drop from becoming worse or ease the discomfort it sometimes causes.

• Blanket lifter: This device relieves the pressure of sheets and blankets on the foot and ankle joint, which could lead to accelerated muscle deterioration.

• Splints and braces: Less flexible than an AFO, splints and braces stabilize the foot and ankle joint and provide support to walk.

• Foot positioners, stabilizers and elevators: These devices provide support for people who are immobile.

For more information, go to StrokeSmart

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