Foot Drop? Dragging Leg While Walking?

foot drop foot dragging

What is Foot Drop or Foot Drag? Why Am I Dragging My Leg While Walking?

Foot drop or foot drag is when a person is walking and they lift their leg to swing it forward and the toe or foot drags against the ground. This can be a serious issue because it could lead to a fall or alter the mechanics of a person’s gait.

This will eventually cause more dysfunction due to the person compensating with other muscles and or joints. 

foot drop foot drag

What Could Be Causing My Foot Drag?

There are several different possibilities on what could be causing it. The first scenario is that it could be originating from the back. The nerve coming out of the spine could be compressed due to a disk injury which would cause weakness in the muscles in the leg and ankle.

Therefore, the muscle that allows your ankle to lift, the anterior tibialis muscle, does not have the strength to appropriately clear the ground.

Another option is that there could be restrictions in the ankle itself. If the ankle joint does not have enough range to allow the ankle to lift, or what we call dorsiflexion, then the foot will drag while lifting the le

Could It Be a Leg Length Discrepancy?

One of the most common things that I see what is called a leg length discrepancy. This means that one of the legs is longer than the other one.

It can come in two instances: it can be a true leg length discrepancy, where one of the bones is truly longer than the other, which is typically from a growth plate fracture as a kid or something like that. 

The other type of leg length discrepancy is called a functional leg length discrepancy, which is the more common reason. This means that there’s a shift in the pelvis where the pelvis is twisted forward or down and it’s not level with the other side of the pelvis.  

This asymmetry causes the foot to drag when walking. 

foot drop patient sitting on bed

What Can Be Done to Help Foot Drag?

Depending on where the issue is, whether it is coming from the back, if it is a nerve issue, restriction in the ankle, or if it is a leg length discrepancy, or combination; will determine what type of treatment needs to be done.

If it is a leg length discrepancy, adjusting the pelvis by working on the hip flexors and increasing the core strength to even out the pelvis and legs, or treating the back or ankle to alleviate the pressure on the nerve or improve the motion of the ankle.

Check out this blog on Foot Drop from WebMD. Click here to Learn more about nerve anatomy.

Wobble boards are a great tool to help the mobility of the ankle… get one here!  

Wobble Board Exercise for Foot Drag / Foot Drop

Sit in a chair and place the wobble board directly under your knee. Now, put your weak foot in the middle of the wobble board and your other foot in full contact with the ground just to the side.

Point your ankle and toes and touch the front of the wobble board to the ground. This is called plantar-flexion and should not be a problem.  Next, drive your heel towards the ground as your ankle and toes come up towards your nose.

The foot should not leave the wobble board, it should stay flat on the board the entire time. This motion is called dorsiflexion and will stretch the calf. The anterior tibialis is the muscle in the front of the leg that could be weak and this is the muscle we are trying to activate with this exercise.  

Again, the pointing will be easy and the dorsiflexion will more than likely be a challenge.  Do 10 repetitions in each direction and do your best to get that heel side of the wobble board down to the ground.

Do 3-5 more sets of 10 reps as you are able. This will also loosen the ankle joint as we discussed earlier as a possible problem.

Neuromuscular electric stimulation is similar to a TENS unit but is designed to stimulate a muscle contraction instead of help with pain. The anterior tibialis muscle can get stronger with use of this electric stimulator to help with foot drag.

By placing the electrodes over the anterior tibialis muscle and setting the neuromuscular electric stimulator to perform a gentle contraction while attempting to lift the foot on your own. This can be used in conjunction with the wobble board exercise we just discussed above. 

How to Fix the Foot Drop or Foot Drag?

My BEST recommendation is to visit your local physical therapist for a detailed assessment and individualized plan of care to help your foot drop or dragging the leg while walking.

Call 512-215-4227 if you are in the Austin | Westlake Hills area. 

Stephen Dunn