Many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) develop foot drop (sometimes called “drop foot”), a muscle weakness that makes it hard to lift up the foot at the ankle, and therefore causes trouble walking. But a variety of treatment options can improve your ability to walk and help you stay active and independent.
In MS-related foot drop, the nerve that conducts messages to the muscles that flex the ankle becomes damaged. In addition, spasticity or MS-induced tightness in the calf muscle can contribute to the toes' pointing downward, making it even more difficult for the muscles to lift the foot.
Even in people with MS, foot drop can sometimes be caused by something other than MS, like a pinched nerve. When foot drop is due to MS, it can occur as a new or recurring symptom during a relapse, or it can be a consequence of MS progression.
When an MS relapse causes foot drop, it's likely to get better over time, often after a course of steroids. But when foot drop occurs in someone with progressive MS, the weakness may stay the same or slowly get worse.
Exercise can help strengthen your muscles, improving your gait, but it is important to be able to identify whether weakness, spasticity, or both are causing the foot drop, and we will then prescribe specific exercises for you. We also need to determine how foot drop is impacting your functioning and will investigate whether an assistive device might help you get around better.
A type of brace called an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO), can help keep your toe from dropping, and therefore help you to avoid tripping. Most braces do this by keeping your ankle and foot in a flexed position. A variety of styles of ankle-foot orthoses are available, and a physical therapist can help you decide which model best meets your needs.