How to Treat Foot Drop after Stroke

How to Treat Foot Drop after Stroke

Learning how to treat foot drop after stroke can be challenging because it requires a counterintuitive approach.

Although you cannot control the muscles that lift up your foot, trying to move those muscles is exactly how you will regain movement.

Before we dig into a deeper explanation, let’s cover the basics.

What Is Foot Drop?

Foot drop involves difficulty lifting the front part of your foot, which is important for a natural gait, or stepping pattern.

For this reason, foot drop makes walking difficult as it causes your foot to drop down toward the floor when you lift your leg up, possibly leading to foot scuffing or worse – falling. Thankfully, there’s something you can do about foot drop, which we’ll get to in a second.

What Causes Foot Drop?

As you just learned, foot drop is caused by the inability to lift the front part of your foot up. However, this is usually a symptom of a larger, underlying problem like:

  • Nerve injury
  • Muscle or nerve disorders
  • Stroke
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Spinal cord injury

While you can’t reverse the underlying cause, the symptom of foot drop can be treated.

How Can Foot Drop Be Treated?

Foot drop can be treated with 3 different methods: rehabilitation exercise, orthotics, or electrical stimulation.

1. Rehabilitation Exercise

Rehabilitation exercise is by far the best treatment option for foot drop.

Although you cannot control your foot very well right now, it’s important to remember that rehabilitation starts in the brain, not the body.

As you practice foot drop exercises, you are sending signals to the brain. These signals help your brain rewire itself so that it can eventually relearn how to control those muscles.

Although progress may be slow, have faith that rehabilitation exercise is the best way to regain movement in your lower leg and foot.

Don’t have any movement in your lower legs? Passive exercise can still help your brain relearn how to use those muscles!

2. Orthotics

If there is no function in the foot muscles, ankle-foot orthotics (or supportive braces) can be used.

Ankle foot orthotics (AFOs) usually come in the form of leg braces or shoe inserts that support your foot and promote a normal gait.

If your therapist says that you need AFOs, please listen to them. They can help prevent devastating falls.

However, don’t stop with orthotics. The less you use your foot, the more likely it is that your brain will completely forget how to use it. Read about the dangers of learned non-use.

So, if you need an AFO, get it. But don’t stop trying to pursue rehabilitation exercises – even if they’re just passive movements at first.

3. Functional Electrical Stimulation

Lastly, functional electrical stimulation can help correct foot drop by delivering small electric pulses to the nerves in the paralyzed muscles.

Activating the muscles with electrical stimulation can reteach them how to function properly and promote a normal range of motion.

To determine what treatment option is best for you, talk to your therapist so that you can discuss your options.

PS. Try these foot drop exercises – they’re the best way to get your feet cooperating again!

  • Julie Woodcraft

    I have spastic paraplegia and my feet scuff when I walk with my wheeler.what is the best exercise to help them clear the floor?
    when I use my exercise cycle the feet after a while move downwards towards the floor making it impossible to continue.

    • Flint Rehab

      Hey Julie, it sounds like you’re making good progress. Although your foot drop during exercise is discouraging, it’s actually a sign that you’re getting stronger! The cycling exercise is strengthening – and exhausting – the muscle that keeps your foot up. So as you continue to cycle and exercise, the stronger that muscle will get. And hopefully you’ll be able to increase the duration of your cycle sessions over time.

      How is it going so far?

    • Vishal

      hey julie, i uses walk with elbow cruches..butregular exercises make me to control many parts of my body..u should try again for physical exercises

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  • nina

    need to find an afo for post stroke foot drop that can be used by an individual with the use of only one hand.

  • Vishal

    Hii, I’m Vishal.. i have an SCI at T12 or L1 and after that again injury at L4 L5..this was cord compression..after laminectomy i can walk but i have foot drop or numbness in right foot..both feet shows a rarely movement..is there any cure for me