Foot drop is usually diagnosed during a physical exam. Your health care provider will watch you walk and check your leg muscles for weakness. Your provider also may check for numbness on your shin and on the top of your foot and toes.

Imaging tests

Foot drop is sometimes caused by a mass pushing on a nerve. This can be an overgrowth of bone in the spinal canal or a tumor or cyst pressing on the nerve in the knee or spine. Imaging tests can help pinpoint these types of problems.

  • X-rays. Plain X-rays use a low level of radiation to visualize a soft tissue mass or a bone lesion that might be causing your symptoms.
  • Ultrasound. This technology, which uses sound waves to create images of internal structures, can check for cysts or tumors on the nerve or show swelling on the nerve from compression.
  • CT scan. This combines X-ray images taken from many different angles to form cross-sectional views of structures within the body.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to create detailed images of bones and soft tissues. MRI is particularly useful in visualizing soft tissue lesions that may be compressing a nerve.

Nerve tests

Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies measure electrical activity in the muscles and nerves. These tests can be uncomfortable, but they're useful in determining the location of the damage along the affected nerve.

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Treatment for foot drop depends on the cause. If the cause is successfully treated, foot drop might improve or even disappear. If the cause can't be treated, foot drop can be permanent.

Treatment for foot drop might include:

  • Braces or splints. A brace on your ankle and foot or splint that fits into your shoe can help hold your foot in a normal position.
  • Physical therapy. Exercises can strengthen your leg muscles and help you maintain the range of motion in your knee and ankle. These exercises might improve gait problems associated with foot drop. Stretching exercises are particularly important to prevent the stiffness in the calf and heel.
  • Nerve stimulation. Sometimes stimulating the nerve that lifts the foot improves foot drop.
  • Surgery. Depending upon the cause, and if your foot drop is relatively new, nerve surgery might be helpful. If foot drop is long-standing, your doctor might suggest surgery that transfers a working tendon to a different part of the foot to improve function.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Because foot drop can increase your risk of tripping and falling, consider taking these precautions around your house:

  • Keep all floors clear of clutter.
  • Avoid the use of throw rugs.
  • Move electrical cords away from walkways.
  • Make sure rooms and stairways are well-lit.
  • Place fluorescent tape on the top and bottom steps of stairways.

Preparing for your appointment

You're likely to start by seeing your family care provider. Depending on the suspected cause of foot drop, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in brain and nerve disorders, called a neurologist.

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

Make a list of:

  • Your symptoms, including ones that seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment, and when they began.
  • Key personal information, including major stresses or recent life changes.
  • All medications, vitamins or supplements you take, including doses.
  • Questions to ask your care provider.

For foot drop, questions to ask your care provider include:

  • What's causing my symptoms?
  • What tests do I need?
  • Is my condition likely temporary or chronic?
  • What treatment do you recommend?
  • Do you have brochures or other printed material I can have?

Don't hesitate to ask other questions.

What to expect from your doctor

Your care provider is likely to ask questions, such as:

  • Are your symptoms present all the time, or do they come and go?
  • Does anything seem to make your symptoms better?
  • Does anything seem to make your symptoms worse?
  • Do you notice weakness in your legs?
  • Does your foot slap the floor when you walk?
  • Do you have numbness or tingling in your foot or leg?
  • Do you have pain? If so, what is it like and where is it located?
  • Do you have a history of diabetes?
  • Do you have other muscle weakness?
Jan. 05, 2023
  1. Drake RL. Lower limb. In: Gray's Anatomy for Students. 4th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Sept. 27, 2022.
  2. Foot drop information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Foot-Drop-Information-Page. Accessed Sept. 26, 2022.
  3. Rutkove SB. Overview of lower extremity peripheral nerve syndromes. https//www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Sept. 26, 2022.
  4. Hansen J. Lower limb. In: Netter's Clinical Anatomy. 5th ed. Elsevier; 2022. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Sept. 27, 2022.
  5. Foot drop treatment (tendon transfer). American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/treatments/Pages/Foot-Drop-Treatment-(Tendon-Transfer).aspx. Accessed Sept. 26, 2022.
  6. McGee SR. Stance and gait. In: Evidence-Based Physical Diagnosis. 5th ed. Elsevier; 2022. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Sept. 27, 2022.
  7. Speelziek SJA, et al. Clinical spectrum of neuropathy after primary total knee arthroplasty: A series of 54 cases. Muscle and Nerve. 2019; doi:10.1002/mus.26473.
  8. Fortier LM, et al. An update on peroneal nerve entrapment and neuropathy. Orthopedic Reviews (Pavia). 2021; doi:10.52965/001c.24937.


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