What is Foot Drop?
Foot drop refers to a condition which causes the leg to drag the front of the foot while walking. It can cause loss of balance and create difficulty when walking without assistance. One of the most obvious signs of foot drop is a “high steppage gait”, where the patient bends the knee of the affected leg higher than the other while in motion, to enable the foot to raise high enough to clear the ground. An easy test to determine the presence of foot drop is to attempt walking on the heels; if this is not possible, foot drop might be the cause.
The patient may feel no pain or discomfort in the leg or foot, however, neurological symptoms such as tingling or burning often occur. One or both feet can show signs of foot drop, but oddly enough, this symptom might be the only evidence that there is a problem. However, the condition should always be evaluated by a physician.
Foot drop is a neuromuscular disorder, affecting the muscles as well as the nerves. It is not a disease in itself, rather, it is a symptom of another underlying condition which is the root cause of the dysfunction. Sometimes, an injury such as a lumbar herniated disc in the lower back is the reason for the problem. If a lumbar herniated disc is the cause, foot drop may resolve itself if the disc improves. But if the disc problem continues or worsens, the problem in the foot will follow suit, and surgical options may need to be discussed with your doctor.
Other Lower Back Problems and Foot Drop
The peroneal nerve begins below the knee and follows a path along the outside of the leg. It continues into the ankle, foot, big toe, and first toe. This nerve communicates the impulse that causes movement in this area of the foot, as in flexing of the toes. If there is pressure, impingement or damage to the peroneal nerve, foot drop can happen.
There are conditions other than lumbar herniated disc which could lead to foot drop, which includes:
Lumbar spinal stenosis. In the presence of bone spurs, facet joint issues, or narrowing of the spinal canal, compression can happen that affects the nerve roots as they exit the opening of the spine. Spinal stenosis is the term for this condition, which leads to pain and other symptoms. One of these symptoms, if the nerve affected is the peroneal nerve, can be foot drop.
Spondylolisthesis. When a vertebra slips forward over another one, a pinched nerve can occur. Depending on the affected nerve, the symptoms can travel down to the foot and lead to foot drop.
Bone fractures or lacerations. Any type of break or injury to the vertebrae in the lower back can stress or inflame the surrounding nerves and cause pain. It can also create the problem of foot drop.