Foot drop due to traumatic injury
Foot drop injury is a common complication of nerve injuries in the back, hip or legs. Also called “drop foot,” it is a result of weakness or paralysis of the muscles involved in lifting the front part of the foot.
Foot drop injury can be a frightening development for a person who is accustomed to being very active. It makes it hard to lift the front part of the foot, so it might drag on the floor when in walking. To compensate, one raises the thigh when walking as though climbing stairs (steppage gait), to help the foot clear the floor. This exaggerated gait might cause you to slap your foot down onto the floor with each step. Imagine trying to run, participate in sports, or do one’s normal work and other life activities in this condition.
I developed foot drop at age 39 due to a herniated disc at L5-S1 in the low back after a side impact T-bone collision in an intersection. It was frightening to find myself unable to walk normally. For weeks I had experienced increasingly severe sciatic pain, but I was unwilling to take off time from work to deal with it. Then I woke up morning to find that my leg no longer worked. Fortunately, one of the top neurosurgeons in Atlanta was able to fit me into his schedule that week. He fixed it so that I was able to run marathons afterward. Most people are not that lucky.
The most common cause of foot drop is compression of the peroneal nerve that controls the muscles involved in lifting the foot. Traumatic injuries leading to foot drop can include fracture to tibial plateau, Patellar dislocations, ankle inversion injury, sciatic neuropathy resulting from either a traumatic injury of the hip or secondary to surgery and lumbosacral injuries.
The peroneal nerve is a branch of the sciatic nerve that wraps from the back of the knee to the front of the shin. Because it sits very close to the surface, it may be damaged easily. A pinched sciatic nerve resulting from a low back injury can cause drop foot.
Injuries to the leg or low back from car and truck accidents are a frequent cause of drop foot. That was what happened to me. Other causes include brain and spinal cord disorders such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis, diabetes, stroke, and muscle or nerve disorders such as muscular dystrophy, polio or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. Risk factors other than traumatic injury can include activities that compress the peroneal nerve such as habitually crossing legs, prolonged kneeling or squatting, and wearing a leg cast. The peroneal nerve can also be injured during hip or knee replacement surgery, which may cause foot drop. Foot drop may also occur as a complication of abdominal or pelvic surgery or radiation treatments.
Treatments for foot drop can include:
- Surgery to relieve the underlying nerve compression. That worked beautifully for me at 39. Unfortunately, it is not effective for everyone.
- Physical therapy to strengthen or stretch the muscles in the leg and foot
- Braces, splints or shoe inserts to help hold the foot in position
- An electrical nerve stimulation implant to help the nerves work
If foot drop persists, it may qualify for a permanent impairment rating under the American Medical Association Guides to Evaluation of Permanent Impairment, 6th Edition.
If you or a loved one has a foot drop injury caused by another’s negligence, call us at 404-253-7862.
Johnson & Ward has been a leading personal injury and wrongful death specialty law firm in Atlanta since 1949.
Ken Shigley, senior counsel at Johnson & Ward, is a former president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12). He was the first Georgia lawyer to earn three board certifications from the National Board of Trial Advocacy (Civil Trial Advocacy, Civil Pretrial Advocacy, and Truck Accident Law). In 2019, he received the Traditions of Excellence Award for lifetime achievement. Mr. Shigley was the lead author of eleven editions of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice (Thomson Reuters, 2010-21). He graduated from Furman University and Emory University Law School