What are the Causes of Foot Drop?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2018
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Foot drop is a condition where people lose a lot of motor control in the muscles of their ankles, making it difficult or impossible to raise the foot towards the shin. The causes of foot drop are very wide-ranging, including everything from injuries to certain diseases like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s. All of the causes of foot drop are generally related to nervous system damage in some way, specifically damage that limits the functionality of the peroneal nerve, which is partly responsible for helping to orchestrate movement of the ankle.

Some of the causes of foot drop are genetic disorders. In these situations, people are generally born with a dysfunction that disables the peroneal nerve. Parents and doctors may not realize there is a problem until the child begins learning to walk, and even then, it may not be identified right away.

There are several serious conditions that can also be causes of foot drop. For example, a stroke can cause nervous system damage that leads to foot drop, or a tumor could put pressure on nerves, which could ultimately cause the peroneal nerve to quit working properly. Either of these conditions has the potential to be fatal if left untreated, so it is generally important that people consider any sudden episode of foot drop as an emergency situation.


Many spinal injuries or leg injuries could potentially cause a person to develop foot drop, and when it's caused by an injury, the condition may sometimes be more treatable. For example, if someone has a broken vertebrate that’s messing up the connection between the spine and the peroneal nerve, it might be correctable with surgery. Treating foot drop when it's caused by some kind of injury is different from one case to the next, but the prognosis is usually pretty good, and most patients regain some or all of their motor function eventually.

When treating other causes of foot drop, doctors will focus normally on the underlying problem, whatever it may be. There is often no reliable treatment that can actually get rid of the problem permanently. Doctors frequently recommend that patients go through specialized physical therapy that can help them learn to live with foot drop. Sometimes this may involve learning special techniques for walking more smoothly without full motor control over the ankle. There is also usually a focus on strengthening other muscles in the leg as a way to compensate for the loss of motor control.



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