What causes foot drop and how can it be treated?

Symptom Database

Foot drop is a condition that affects the ability to lift the front part of the foot, causing it to drag or drop when walking. It can be a result of various underlying causes, and its treatment options depend on the specific cause and severity of the condition. In this article, we will explore the causes of foot drop, its symptoms, and the available treatment options, including exercises, braces, surgery, and orthotics.

Causes of Foot Drop

Foot drop can be caused by damage to the nerves or muscles that control the movement of the foot. Some common causes include:

  • Nerve injury: Damage to the peroneal nerve, which runs along the outside of the lower leg, can lead to foot drop. This can occur due to trauma, such as a sports injury or accident, or as a result of conditions like peripheral neuropathy or nerve compression.
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis: Conditions that affect the muscles in the lower leg, such as muscular dystrophy or stroke, can result in foot drop.
  • Nerve disorders: Certain neurological conditions, including multiple sclerosis and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, can cause foot drop.
  • Spinal cord injury: Damage to the spinal cord can disrupt the signals between the brain and the muscles, leading to foot drop.

Foot Drop Symptoms

The primary symptom of foot drop is difficulty lifting the front part of the foot, causing it to drag on the ground. This can result in an abnormal gait and increase the risk of tripping or falling. Other symptoms may include:

  • Numbness or tingling in the foot or leg
  • Muscle weakness in the leg or foot
  • Foot pain or cramping
  • Difficulty flexing or extending the foot

Foot Drop Treatment


Physical therapy exercises can help improve muscle strength and flexibility, which can aid in the recovery of foot drop. Some exercises that may be beneficial include:

  • Ankle dorsiflexion exercises: These exercises involve moving the foot upward, towards the shin, to strengthen the muscles responsible for lifting the foot.
  • Toe curls: This exercise involves curling the toes downward and then extending them, which helps strengthen the muscles in the foot.
  • Resistance training: Using resistance bands or weights can help build strength in the muscles of the lower leg and foot.

Braces and Orthotics

Wearing a brace or orthotic device can provide support to the foot and ankle, helping to alleviate the symptoms of foot drop. A brace called an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) is commonly used to provide stability and improve walking ability. It can be custom-made or purchased off-the-shelf, depending on the individual’s needs.


In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat foot drop. The specific surgical procedure will depend on the underlying cause of the condition. For example, nerve decompression surgery may be performed to relieve pressure on the affected nerve, or tendon transfer surgery may be done to improve muscle function and restore foot movement.

Foot Drop Recovery

The recovery process for foot drop varies depending on the cause and severity of the condition. In some cases, foot drop may resolve on its own with time and appropriate treatment. However, in other cases, the recovery may be more challenging.

Physical therapy and exercises play a crucial role in the recovery process. Consistent and targeted exercises can help strengthen the muscles and improve mobility. It is important to follow the guidance of a healthcare professional or physical therapist to ensure proper technique and progression of exercises.

In addition to exercises, using assistive devices such as braces or orthotics can aid in the recovery process by providing support and stability. These devices can help improve walking ability and reduce the risk of falls.

Foot Drop Exercises at Home

While it is essential to work with a healthcare professional or physical therapist for a comprehensive treatment plan, there are some exercises that can be done at home to complement the therapy sessions. These exercises include:

  • Toe taps: Sit with your feet flat on the ground and tap your toes up and down.
  • Ankle circles: Sit with your legs extended and rotate your ankles in a circular motion.
  • Heel raises: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and raise your heels off the ground, then lower them back down.

It is important to start with gentle movements and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the exercises. If any pain or discomfort is experienced, it is advisable to stop the exercise and consult a healthcare professional.

In Conclusion

Foot drop can significantly impact a person’s mobility and quality of life. Understanding the underlying causes, recognizing the symptoms, and seeking appropriate treatment are crucial for managing this condition. Whether through exercises, braces, surgery, or orthotics, there are various treatment options available to help individuals with foot drop regain function and improve their overall well-being.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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