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General Spine News

Thumbs Up for Patients with Foot Drop

Foot drop is a condition in which muscles can't lift the front of the foot. The muscles or nerves in the ankle that lift the foot are not working correctly, possibly because of nerve damage. Foot drop can make walking and climbing stairs awkward and difficult.

Foot drop also has several spinal causes, including disc herniation and spinal stenosis in the lower spine. Foot drop in these instances occurs due to pressure on the nerves that go from the spine to the foot muscles. When such spinal disorders are the cause of foot drop, surgery may be the chosen treatment.

However, there is very little follow-up research on how well surgery on the spine works to correct foot drop. These authors reviewed the records of 55 patients who had spine surgery for foot drop. The patients had foot drop for an average of three months before spinal surgery. Most of the patients also showed some other muscle or nerve problems, such as weakness in the muscles of the hips, decreased sensation, and weakness in the muscle that lifts the big toe up.

After surgery, foot drop improved in all but one patient; 71 percent of the patients had a full recovery. Most patients saw their other symptoms improve as well. However, weakness in the big toe muscle was the problem least likely to improve. The one patient who saw no improvement was one of the oldest patients who also had other significant health problems. The authors noted no connection between improvement and a patient's age, severity of foot drop, or length of time before having surgery.

The authors conclude that spinal surgery can be an effective way to correct foot drop. They suggest more research on bigger groups of patients to help determine the best timing for surgery. They also note that all the patients in this study had leg pain along with foot drop. So patients with painless foot drop may have different results.


Federico P. Girardi, et al. Improvement of Preoperative Foot Drop After Lumbar Surgery. In Journal of Spine Disorders & Techniques. December 2002. Vol. 15. No. 6. Pp. 490-494.

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