Speed up your foot drop recovery with these 5 treatments.
You don’t need all of them, but it’s best to understand all of your options before you decide on treatment.
To help you make the best decision, we will teach you about:
- The cause of foot drop after stroke
- 2 of the best treatments available
- 3 helpful compensation techniques
Here we go!
The Cause of Foot Drop After Stroke
Foot drop happens when you have difficulty lifting the front part of your foot up toward your shin (a movement known as dorsiflexion).
When stroke damages the part of the brain that controls dorsiflexion, then foot drop can occur.
Foot drop also leads to other problems like poor balance and abnormal walking patterns, so addressing the issue is a must.
The Key to Success
Foot drop recovery is all about reconnecting mind to muscle by rewiring your brain through neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is your brain’s built-in mechanism for creating new neural pathways.
When part of the brain becomes damaged by stroke, the surrounding brain tissue can actually pick up the slack through neuroplasticity.
This means that you can train new parts of your brain to control your dorsiflexion by activating neuroplasticity; and we’ll teach you how to do this next!
1. Rehabilitation Exercise (The Best Method for Foot Drop Recovery)
Rehabilitation exercise is the best treatment for foot drop – especially when it’s repetitive, because repetition activates neuroplasticity.
Your brain likes to be efficient. So whenever you start to do something repetitively, your brain will strengthen its neural connections to make that task easier.
The more you practice your dorsiflexion exercises, the more efficient you will get at dorsiflexion.
Mind Over Muscle
As you can see, rehab exercise isn’t just about strengthening your muscles. Although strengthening is a goal, it’s not the primary goal.
Rather, foot drop exercise is mostly about strengthening the connections in your brain that control your foot.
And best of all, there’s another way to facilitate neuroplasticity and heal foot drop after stroke:
2. Electrical Stimulation (Best Paired Treatment for Foot Drop Recovery)
Electrical stimulation can be a great way to kick-start your foot drop recovery.
It works by sending electrical impulses to your affected muscles, which stimulates your brain, as if saying, “Hey! There’s a foot here! Let’s get things moving!”
Because your brain uses electrical impulses to control your muscles, electrical stimulation helps spark neuroplasticity even more.
Get the Most Out of It: Pair E-Stim with Exercise
Studies show that combining electrical stimulation with rehab exercise produces better results than just one or the other.
It’s no surprise, really. After all, both treatments help activate neuroplasticity; and when you put them together, it’s a recipe for even more success!
So if you can afford a small e-stim machine – or if your local clinic has one – pair it with your foot drop exercises to see the best results.
Next, we’ll start talking about compensation techniques for foot drop.
Will Compensation Techniques Help You or Hinder You?
Compensation techniques are like “shortcuts” that you can use to work around stroke side effects like foot drop.
They’re useful, but they might get in the way of a full recovery if you’re not careful. Here’s why:
Compensation involves performing an old movement in a new manner.
For example, using a foot brace (which we will discuss next) is a compensation technique for foot drop. It doesn’t heal your foot, but it helps you get by.
The most important thing to understand is that compensation is not recovery.
Recovery Should Always Be the Goal
Recovery involves restoring the ability to perform a movement the same way as before injury.
Using our previous example, recovery involves regaining the ability to use your foot again.
This might have you wondering, “If compensation techniques aren’t recovery, then why do they exist in the first place?”
Simply put: They exist to help you get on with your life while recovery is in process, and they often help improve your safety.
So use compensation techniques when you need to – just don’t forget to work on recovery in the meantime (i.e. e-stim and rehab exercises!).
Now let’s dig into the other 3 treatments.
3. Ankle Foot Orthotics (Your First Line of Compensation Techniques)
Ankle Foot Orthotics (AFOs) are foot braces that you can use to prop your foot up.
This helps prevent your forefoot from dragging on the ground and dramatically improves your safety.
If your foot drop poses a threat to your safety, then using an AFO is a great idea.
Just keep in mind that if you don’t use your foot, you’ll lose your foot.
People who become dependent on AFOs often lose all movement in their lower leg and foot because the brain simply forgets about it (a condition known as learned non-use).
So be sure to stay focused on recovery.
Use AFOs during your activities of daily living to protect your safety, and keep doing your rehab exercises so that you can outgrow the need for an AFO altogether.
4. Medication (Compensation Technique)
Sometimes foot drop creates pain in your lower leg and foot. And if this pain is preventing you from exercising, then using medication to alleviate the pain could be a great idea.
If you struggle with pain in your foot after stroke, consult with your doctor.
5. Surgery (A Last-Resort Compensation Technique)
If none of these methods provide relief for your foot drop (give yourself time before the results from repetitive exercise set in!), then you might consider surgery like a tendon transfer.
A tendon transfer could potentially help relieve foot drop after stroke.
A tendon transfer works by surgically taking a working tendon (usually the posterior tibial tendon) and attaching it to another part of your foot to replace the missing function.
This surgery will only work (without guarantee) if there is some movement in other areas of the lower leg.
A rule of thumb is that surgery is reasonable to consider after about a year of no improvement.
How Long Will Foot Drop Recovery Take?
Now that you know about all your treatment options, you might wonder how long healing will take.
Honestly, foot drop recovery is tough. It’s one of the slowest functions to come back after stroke.
However, don’t give up hope! If you do your foot drop exercises regularly (every other day or daily), then you should see some results within 1-3 months.
For example, stroke survivor Ronald was able to target the gas petal in his car after 1 month of repetitive exercise with FitMi.
While he still has more work to do on his foot drop, 1 month of repetitive exercise was enough to get him back behind the steering wheel.
Your recovery might take more or less time than Ronald, so try not to compare your recovery to anyone else’s.
Trust that if you put in the work, results will follow.
Here’s the review that Ronald left for our FitMi home exercise device:
“When my outpatient rehab was over I struggled with my exercises because I had no feedback.
With the FitMi, I have immediate feedback and also weekly feedback on how well I am doing. I am having great fun with this product.
It motivates me daily to continue and to surpass yesterday’s accomplishments and to look forward to today’s, tomorrow’s, and the weekly review of what I’ve done.
I have noticed real-world results as well. I drive one-footed now rather than two-footed because I can target the gas pedal and the brake with my right foot.
I can target the cruise control set button with my right hand. These accomplishments are due to the exercises and feedback of the FitMi.
I can now clap my hands which was impossible before the FitMi exercises.
I cannot say enough about the quality and the results of this product, and it was worth of every penny. I have also shared with many others who might improve with the use of the FitMi.”
Ronald is part of hundreds of stroke survivors in the Flint family who have quickly improved their mobility with FitMi.
Summary: The Best Methods for Foot Drop Recovery
Overall, the best treatment for foot drop is repetitive rehab exercise paired with electrical stimulation.
To improve your safety and quality of life while you recover, you can try compensation techniques like AFO’s, pain medication, and even surgery as a last resort.
Remember that compensation is not recovery, though.
If you want to regain your ability to walk normally, then consistent, repetitive exercise is the best way to go.