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Physical Therapy for Drop Foot – Information, Exercises, and More

If you are experiencing drop foot, you know how it can affect your daily life.

Difficulty walking, scraped toes from foot-dragging, and numbness in your foot can all be incredibly frustrating symptoms to handle on a day-to-day basis. 

There are ways to help alleviate your symptoms and frustrations.

In this guide, we will discuss the causes and symptoms of drop foot, and how physical therapy and other medical treatments can help.

What is Drop Foot?

Drop foot refers to the inability to lift the foot due to weakened or paralyzed muscles in the foot.

Drop foot makes it difficult to walk, either resulting in:

  • Dragging the foot along the ground.
  • Bending the knees to lift the foot higher above the ground than normal to avoid dragging the foot, resulting in an abnormal gait.

Drop foot can occur in either one or both of the feet and can be temporary or permanent.

What Causes Drop Foot?

Drop foot is not a disease, but rather a symptom of a neurological, anatomical, or muscular problem.

Below are some common drop foot causes.

Nerve Injury

Nerve injury can cause foot drop to occur, as certain nerves stimulate muscles in order to perform functions involving the foot.

Some common nerve injuries that cause foot drop include: 

  • Compression of the peroneal nerve, which is the nerve that controls the leg muscles responsible for lifting the foot. This is one of the most common causes of drop foot. 
  • Nerve root injury, which can also be referred to as a “pinched nerve” in the spine.

People with diabetes may be more at risk of developing drop foot due to their susceptibility to nerve disorders.

Neurological or Muscular Disorders

Disorders that cause compression or damage to nerves or muscle weakness can cause drop foot.

Some neurological and muscular disorders that can cause drop foot include: 

Brain and Spinal Cord Disorders

Disorders that affect the spinal cord or the brain can cause drop foot. 

Some examples of disorders of the brain and spinal cord that can cause drop foot include:

Drop Foot Symptoms

You can experience drop foot symptoms in one or both of your feet.

Some symptoms of drop foot you may experience include:

  • Inability to lift the foot
  • Dragging your toes or top of the foot when walking
  • Numbness in the top of your toes or foot from foot-dragging
  • Developing a foot drop gait in order to avoid foot-dragging

It is important to always discuss your symptoms with your doctor in order to rule out other foot and ankle injuries.

Risk Factors for Drop Foot

You could be increasing your risk of developing drop foot from peroneal nerve compression without realizing it. 

Here are some examples of behaviors that can increase your risk of developing drop foot:

  • Crossing your legs. Frequently crossing your legs can cause peroneal nerve compression and lead to drop foot.
  • Prolonged kneeling. Occupations that require you to kneel for long periods of time can increase your risk for developing drop foot. 
  • Wearing a leg cast. Plaster casts can compress the peroneal nerve when they enclose the ankle and end just below the knee.

Drop Foot Treatment

Drop foot treatment options depend on the underlying condition causing drop foot to occur. 

Drop foot may improve or disappear if the root cause is successfully treated.

If there isn’t treatment available for the underlying condition, drop foot may be permanent.

Here are some treatment options that may be presented to you.

Drop Foot Brace or Splint

Your doctor may prescribe a brace or splint to help hold your ankle and foot in a normal position.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help you maintain range of motion in your ankle and knee, and prevent your heel from getting stiff. 

Strengthening the calf muscles and maintaining a normal range of motion in the ankle and knee joints may help improve abnormal gait issues associated with drop foot. 

Nerve Stimulation

A device may be used to electrically stimulate the peroneal nerve in cases where issues with the peroneal nerve are causing foot drop.


In cases where foot drop is permanent, your doctor may recommend surgery to fuse the foot and ankle joint. 

Another type of surgery involves transferring a working tendon from a stronger leg muscle to the foot.

Drop Foot Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

Yes, drop foot physical therapy is extremely beneficial.

Physical therapy can help maintain range of motion in your ankle and knee joints and also maintain muscle tone in your calf. 

A physical therapist can also provide gait training to help patients with abnormal gaits walk more efficiently and improve stability.

Best Drop Foot Exercises

A physical therapist may recommend some of the following drop foot exercises. 

It is important to always consult a Doctor of Physical Therapy before attempting any of these exercises by yourself. 

Range of Motion Exercises

A physical therapist may use different stretching and manual therapy techniques to help restore or maintain range of motion in your ankle and knee joints, as well as keep your heel from becoming stiff. 

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening exercises are used to help maintain muscle tone in your calf and strengthen muscles around your foot and ankle joint.

Here are some different examples of strengthening exercises that can be used: 

  • Towel stretch
  • Marble pick-ups
  • Ankle dorsiflexion
  • Plantar flexion
  • Ball lifts

Gait Training

A physical therapist can help create a customized gait training program to help improve abnormal gaits as well as improve balance and posture. 

Repetitive motions used in gait training help create muscle memory while also strengthening muscles in the leg, foot, and ankle.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Drop Foot

In Motion O.C. is dedicated to improving lives through the help of physical therapy. 

As the #1 rated physical therapy clinic on Yelp! and Google, In Motion O.C. has helped hundreds of people like you suffering from drop foot. 

We are here to help increase your quality of life and help alleviate your symptoms the best that we can.

*This information about physical therapy for drop foot was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.