What is foot drop syndrome and how to know if your elderly parent has it?
Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), also known as foot drop or drop foot is actually a group of disorders that affect the peripheral nerves — And lead to having difficulty lifting their foot. In my mother’s case, she noticed that she couldn’t flex her foot and it was starting to turn sideways.
In addition, she began to lose feeling in her foot due to weakness caused by this degenerative disease and was literally dragging her foot on the floor as she walked. This lead to major mobility issues for her and caused frequent falls. Please note that this is also considered an inherited condition.
The main warning sign to look for is if your elderly parent starts walking with a strange gait. My mother dragged her foot, others may adjust their gait in a different way to compensate for the weakness in their foot.
Underlying causes of foot drop:
The most common cause of foot drop is related to nerve injuries. Basically, what happens is a nerve in your leg that controls the muscles involved in lifting the foot gets compressed for one reason or the other. Your nerve can also be injured during different types of surgeries, like hip replacement as an example. Even a pinched nerve in your spine can cause foot drop.
Here are some other causes:
- A lower back condition
- Spinal stenosis
- A herniated disc in the lumbar
- A stroke
- A tumor
- Parkinson’s disease
- Motor neuron disease
- Multiple sclerosis
Top treatments for foot drop
- Although foot drop can not be cured, it can be successfully managed with some interesting new treatments. Generally, the most common treatment is having a brace that goes from your knee to your foot to stabilize the foot and keep it at a 90 degree angle (straight out front like a normal foot).
- There are 2 different types of leg braces that your doctor or physical therapist can prescribe. One is customized to you foot and lower leg needs. The other is prefabricated and based on foot size. My mother will tell you that from her experience using both, get the customized version.
- The customized braces have a very important component called a rear foot post. It is essentially a wedge that tapers out underneath the heel. Another thing my mother would tell you is that you need to get your shoes in a larger size so the brace fits in comfortable.
Other treatments include:
- Consult with your doctor to get a referral to a good physical therapist. They will develop tailored exercises to build muscle strength and flexibility. They may even recommend swimming or low-impact aerobics along with other types of exercises to improve stability and walking.
- Since his is considered a degenerative condition, over time your muscle may weaken more. An occupational therapist can help teach you how to do simple things, such as getting dressed in the morning.
- If you have a minor case of foot drop, your doctor may prescribe customized orthotics for your shoes.
Another treatment that is getting some good results is stimulating the nerve that lifts the foot improves foot drop.
Although foot drop is a degenerative disease, there are very promising treatments out there (my own mother is a testament to that). In addition to treatments outlined above, the Mayo Clinic recommends some lifestyle changes that could help, particularly to prevent falls.
- Keep all floors clear of clutter
- Avoid the use of throw rugs or area rugs that you can trip on
- Move electrical cords away from all walkways
- Make sure rooms and stairways are well lit so you can see where you are
I would like to leave you with this video of some potential exercises you can try. As always, please consult with your doctor or physical therapist first.
If you would like to share your personal stories of foot drop or have found some promising treatments, please share with the community.
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