For someone with "foot drop," the front lower leg muscles are too weak to lift the foot upward at the ankle. The foot hangs downward instead of lifting upward to take each step. Gait is altered and the front of the foot may slap the ground with each step. Fixing foot drop involves fixing three things - stopping the original cause, strengthening the (several) secondary effects of the weakened and tightened muscles, and retraining gait to normal. Common treatment options of braces to hold the foot up, canes or walkers to steady walking, drugs for the pain of whatever is causing it, reductions in activity, and certain surgeries, may all interfere with recovery and create new, and even more serious problems. Healthy treatment can be done without surgery, drugs, inactivity, or bracing.
One common surgery fuses the ankle so that the foot can't hang down. The foot can't move any other way either, causing new gait disturbance, and limitations in moving for health or fun. When foot drop comes from a herniated disc reducing nerve conduction, surgeries may remove the disc. However, discs are needed for healthy spine dynamics. Surgical spine fusion, even more drastically limits healthful movement, and ultimately health itself.
Interchangeably called drop foot, it is not a disease by itself, but the result of something else. Foot drop can follow a herniated disc that presses on nerves that exit the lower spine. It may also come from an injury directly to the peroneal nerve behind the knee. Certain diseases of the nervous system such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) may reduce signals to various nerves.
A disturbing and increasing number of foot drop cases come from back and knee surgery. Someone undergoing surgery for a herniated disc or a knee replacement may wake with foot drop when nearby nerves were damaged or accidentally cut during the surgery. Such "side effects" are regularly called unavoidable surgical risks. It is important to change understanding of medical practice so that it is understood that adding new problems is not healthy and so, isn't "health care." Tragically, surgery itself for disc trouble is nearly always unnecessary.
As foot drop continues, lack of stretching in back of the leg that would have naturally come with each step from lifting the foot results in Achilles tendon and other structural tightness. Tightness can increase until that alone restricts lifting the foot.
Reader Sylvia wrote me several notes of her success reversing the components of foot drop. She first wrote in August, after finding the post of Inspirational Ivy II - Beating Foot Drop and Sciatica, and Getting Healthier. Her photos walking with a cane and needing to ride in a golf cart are above, left.
In Sylvia's case, her physician told her that a herniated disc was preventing the nerve down the leg from conducting enough to the front lower leg muscles (usually the tibialis anterior), which lifts the foot. Sylvia wrote,
"The specialist orthopedic surgeon I was referred to fortunately said he would not operate and my subsequent follow up visit has resulted in him telling me to go away as I am no longer in pain although I still have no dorsiflexion (upward lift of the foot). If in a year I still have drop foot I should discuss again with my doctor. Not very helpful…Thankyou for the wonderful work you have done putting this web-site together Best Wishes from England. –Sylvia"
When a disc is involved, the first thing to do is to stop the reasons for discs pressing outward, such as bad bending and sitting, and use good bending and sitting instead. If it is slouching so that you have too much inward curve of the lower spine, and that is pressing on the nerve, or it pushes the disc which then pushes the nerve, then you stop that habit, so it can heal. Stop the source. Surgery is not necessary. This is explained more in the post Cauda Equina - Result Not Cause. Then you exercise the shin muscles that have weakened, and stretch the calf and Achilles and bottom of the foot, which has tightened. You also need to practice balance and gait.
Reader Ivy began corresponding in the comments of the post to tell Sylvia her specific events to first stop the disc herniation, which was pressing and constricting nerve conduction.
By October, Sylvia has done much to reserve several causes and results. She was walking without a cane (right) and wrote,
"Hi Jolie and Ivy
"I really appreciate your support and enthusiasm. My badly herniated disc obviously impinged on the nerve causing the nerve damage. I know this is from years of bad posture. I have come a long way already but not too far in the lunging and balance areas yet.
"At the weekend I was seen to be dancing at my son's wedding and I realised that non-one would believe I am usually slapping along.
"Instead of wearing my usual flat shoes or bare feet I had some new ankle strap 2 inch heel sandals for the event. The strap helps to keep the shoe on and the height of the heel was just right to keep me on my toes ! So I have decided to find a dance class to supplement my pool and land exercises as I have rediscovered I love dancing !
"I am going to Florida for a couple of months and should be able to find some dance action there. I'm going to try and toe walk on the sandy beach too.
"In the meantime I will keep on trying to change my bad postural habits! Best wishes. –Sylvia"
"Dear Dr Jolie,
"I have received the books today... Now I have no excuse for not stretching and correctly at that !
"I can't wait to get back in the water and see how my ankles are - they are probably quite stiff so will need some work.
"I have printed the Inspirational Ivy page with the pictures of her exercising and keep it in my purse as a constant reminder that my condition will improve. Everyone here whom I haven't seen for two months whilst in the UK, is telling me how much better I'm walking. I tell them what I'm doing and if they have any problems refer them to your web page. Best wishes for now. –Sylvia"
We will be hearing more wonderful things from Sylvia.
Posts with specifics to try:
- Inspirational Ivy II - Beating Foot Drop and Sciatica, and Getting Healthier
- Cauda Equina - Result Not Cause
- Fix Disc Pain Without Surgery
- Studies Say Back Surgery Not Needed
- The Cause of Disc and Back Pain
- Disc Pain - Not a Mystery, Easy to Fix - When you stop bending wrong many times each day, which pushes discs outward many times each day, damaging forces will stop, and can heal.
- Changing Thai Massage to Be Healthier Part I - Avoid Pressuring Lower Back Discs