drop-foot-brace-anderson

drop-foot-brace-anderson

Is the common peroneal nerve the solution for you?

In all diagnoses of drop foot, we must first define the signs, symptoms and causes. Drop foot is a disorder that most commonly creates problems while walking. A correlated symptom is difficulty pulling your foot up towards you off the ground while walking. Along with this, you may notice difficulty moving your foot sideways, away from the opposite foot. Everything combined creates the perfect storm for a nasty fall. When you can’t lift your foot off the ground, you are at high risk for injury since your foot is not able to clear uneven surfaces. The root cause? Simply put, your leg muscles that lift and raise your foot are weaker than normal.

Causes of Drop Foot

Brain and Spinal Cord – This may include stroke, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Trauma – Any form of trauma to the leg that may damage the common peroneal nerve. This nerve is the primary nerve needed to stimulate the muscles that move your foot upwards.

Surgery – Knee and hip surgery may cause drop foot as a complication of the surgery.

Neuropathy – Diabetic and non-diabetic neuropathy may also cause drop foot.

Diagnosing Drop Foot

Physical Examination – Clinically, a physician may test your muscle strength by visually observing you walk with what is referred to as a “steppage gait”. This describes a gait pattern where you lift your knee up more on the side with drop foot symptoms, so that the foot clears the ground to avoid tripping on the foot. An EMG may also be ordered to test the common peroneal nerve that supplies the muscles used to lift your foot up.

Ultrasound and MRI – These forms of imaging may be useful to see if there is compression on the nerve.

Treatment

Exercise – If the drop foot is minimal, then exercise may be useful to maintain and increase muscle strength. Physical therapy for treatment of the foot may be helpful.

Bracing – Various types of ankle braces may be used to help support the foot and ankle.

Electrical Stimulation – For some patients, the use of electrical stimulation done in our clinic can help improve muscle strength.

Surgery

Bone and Tendon Surgery – There are surgical procedures that transfer fully functioning tendons and muscles to areas where the tendons and muscles are weakened from the drop foot condition. Another option is to fuse specific joints of the foot or ankle so the foot and ankle maintain a better position for walking.

infographic-drop-foot-apc

N erve Surgery – This is surgery on the common peroneal nerve, the source of the problem. Now, it’s important I emphasize the importance of the common peroneal nerve because the question truly is; “Is The Common Peroneal Nerve The Solution For You?” So often I see patients who go through trial and error, itching for a solution that seems impossible to find. If you have a drop foot, it’s important that you learn about the common peroneal nerve. For most patients, this is the source of the problem and therefore the solution to improving, or reversing drop foot. The common peroneal nerve is a branch of the sciatic nerve. It goes around the outside of the leg just below the knee joint. As it goes from behind the knee to the front of the leg, it goes through a nerve tunnel. If this nerve tunnel is tight or the nerve has been stretched, we remove the pressure in this area so the symptoms can be improved. Here are some examples:

Neuropathy

People who suffer from neuropathy will have burning, tingling, and numbness in their feet, toes and legs. For some, weakness may also occur resulting in drop foot. This situation can occur in patients with diabetic and non-diabetic neuropathy. Conventional medicine has not done a good job of training medical professionals about the peripheral nervous system in the lower extremity. Doctors have been slow to understand that neuropathy may be caused by nerve tunnels (like carpal tunnel in the hand) that become too tight. As a peripheral nerve surgeon, we have been trained to open nerve tunnels to relieve the pressure on the nerve, therefore reversing neuropathy symptoms. Weakness in patients with neuropathy can be from compression on the common personal nerve.

Hip and Knee Surgery

Patients who have undergone knee and hip replacement surgery are at risk of getting drop foot after surgery. This may occur from the sciatic nerve and the common peroneal nerve getting stretched. By surgically opening the common peroneal nerve tunnel to release pressure on the nerve, the drop foot can be reversed. The common recommendation to those who have this complication is to wait and see if it gets better over time, some waiting a whole year. The suggestion of a peripheral nerve surgeon would be to consider surgical decompression within the first 90 days if there is no improvement of the drop foot. Why? Because if there is no trending towards improvement, waiting longer will limit how much improvement of the drop foot can be achieved with surgery.

Trauma

There are situations where direct trauma to the common peroneal nerve can occur. Examples would be an impact to the nerve tunnel region, or severe knee joint trauma such as a knee dislocation. The same rule applies in these situations, as with patients with drop foot after knee and hip surgery. If no improvement in the first 90 days, surgical decompression must be considered.

So, if you are experiencing a drop foot, it’s important that you consider a peripheral nerve surgeon as part of the improvement process in your situation. Sitting back and waiting to see if it “gets better” can be one of the worst choices.

References

Drop foot from hip replacement surgery
Ng J, Marson BA, Broodryk A. Foot drop following closed reduction of a total hip replacement. BMJ Case Rep. 2016 Mar 22;2016:bcr2016215010. doi: 10.1136/bcr-2016-215010. PMID: 27005799; PMCID: PMC4823537.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4823537/

Drop foot from knee replacement surgery
Carender CN, Bedard NA, An Q, Brown TS. Common Peroneal Nerve Injury and Recovery after Total Knee Arthroplasty: A Systematic Review. Arthroplast Today. 2020 Aug 22;6(4):662-667. doi: 10.1016/j.artd.2020.07.017. PMID: 32875016; PMCID: PMC7451888.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7451888/

Jennifer’s drop foot eliminated in one day!

Domonique’s drop foot and weakness are gone after surgery.

Mike post drop foot surgery. How the surgery has helped his drop foot!

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