5 Foot Drop Exercises for Stroke Patients with Pictures

5 Foot Drop Exercises for Stroke Patients with Pictures

The best treatment for foot drop after stroke is rehab exercise.

Hands down, bar none.

But before we dive into our best foot drop exercises, we would like to briefly mention the difference between passive and active exercise and how to maximize your results.

Then we will dive straight into the exercises, which all feature Lilian, DPT.

A Note on Passive vs Active Exercises

When you first start out with foot drop exercises, it will most likely be impossible to move your affected foot – and that’s okay! You can still regain movement in your foot with rehab exercises.

You can do this by starting with passive exercises, where you perform an exercise by assisting your affected limb. For example, if your left leg is affected, then you can use your right side to help move your left leg.

This differs from active exercise because during active exercise you do not assist yourself. You perform the entire movement on your own.

The Key to Effective Foot Drop Exercises

You can graduate from passive exercise to active exercise with repetitive practice. That’s why we recommend repeating all of the following exercises at least 10 times.

This is the essence of neuroplasticity, which is the #1 concept that every stroke survivor should know about.

Neuroplasticity works best when you repeat your exercises over and over. Because each time you repeat an exercise, you strengthen new connections in your brain responsible for movement.

The more you repeat, the better your brain becomes at the movement – even if you just start out with passive exercises. Passive exercises are the best way to reintroduce movement into the body.

Now, let’s get exercising!

1. Ankle Adduction/Abduction (Passive)

Cross your affected leg over your other leg at the knee.

Then, use your nonaffected hand to move your foot up and down (passive exercise). Focus on initiating all the movement from your ankle.

For extra challenge, perform without assistance (active exercise).

Repeat 10 times.

2. Ankle Dorsiflexion (Passive)

With your affected leg still crossed over your other leg, move into ankle dorsiflexion.

Use your unaffected hand to move your foot up towards your knee, then back down. Again, focus on imitating all movement from your ankle.

Repeat 10 times.

3. Assisted Toe Raises (Passive) 

Toe raises are the most difficult movement to perform with foot drop. If you have difficulty with this movement – that’s okay!

Even with passive exercise you can start reintroducing movement into that area.

To get into the starting position, place your unaffected food underneath your affected foot. Then, use your nonaffected foot to assist your affected foot up while keeping your heel on the ground. Then release back down.

Repeat 10 times.

Once you regain the ability to perform these without assistance, do active exercise for added challenge.

4. Heel Raises (Active)

This exercise is the opposite of toe raises. Although this may not feel like it’s helping with your foot drop, it will help train the surrounding muscles.

To perform heel raises, start with your feet flat on the ground. Then, point your toes and lift your heels off the ground. Repeat 10 times.

5. Ankle Eversion (Active)

For this exercise, place your affected foot flat on the ground.

Then, lift the outside edge of your foot and toes up, then relax back down.

Really focus on initiating the movement from your foot and ankle and avoid making the movement with your leg.

Repeat 10 times.

  • Vel Lev

    pls share some sample pictorial exercises for balance disturbances while on walking

    • Flint

      Hi Vel! Sorry we didn’t see this comment until now. Here’s an article with core exercises with pictures. By strengthening your core, you can help improve your balance. I’d also seek out a physical therapist who can give you their opinion on your balance problems. I hope you enjoy the article https://www.flintrehab.com/2016/core-exercises-for-stroke-patients/

  • MaryLois Callander

    I had my stroke 8 years ago that left me with left sided weakness and foot drop on my left foot. Is it too late to start these exercises for foot drop and expect improvement?

    • Flint

      Hi MaryLois! It is NEVER too late to start recovering after stroke. For example, we once had a patient 23 years post-stroke start using our MusicGlove hand therapy device, and she started to regain movement in her hand! That’s over two decades post stroke that someone started recovering again. Neuroplasticity can be activated at any age and any stage post stroke. Try these exercises and see what your body is capable of 🙂

  • Kashan Beckford

    I have active inversion and can control my foot pretty well, although I still have dorsiflexion weakness. I also cannot evert my foot, but my question is should I continue strengthening my inverters? I would guess gaining better control of them would translate into overall better foot function. And could probably result in my evertion to get firing. I see you have exercises for eversion but why not inversion also?

    • Flint

      Hi Kashan! Sorry I never saw your comment until just now. My personal suggestion would be to work on dorsiflexion and focus on improving that. You want to be balanced. The assisted toe raises exercise will help with this!

  • alison miller

    Hi there, Thanks for this great post. Please could you answer a question which is: do the principles you outline here apply if the foot drop has been caused by damage to the peroneal nerve? This is my situation and the damage occurred at LS4/5 due to compression of the nerve. I had surgery to decompress the nerve, and am six weeks post surgery. I am doing lots of similar exercises as prescribed by my physio, and I found your post very encouraging (particularly the part about passive exercises having a role to play). I’d be very grateful for any information.

    • Flint

      Hi Alison! This is a great question. Repetitive rehab exercise is particularly beneficial for those recovering from neurological injury like stroke. Since you have an issue with your nerves, this doesn’t exactly apply. But if your therapist has you doing similar exercises, then these should help.