Your feet work tirelessly day in and day out and are often times one of the most under-appreciated parts of the human body. The foot, with help from the ankle, is a strong and mechanical structure that contains 26 bones, 33 joints, more than 100 muscles, tendons & ligaments, and has over 8,000 nerves.
With this complexity, it's no wonder that 75% of Americans will experience some type of serious foot problems in their life. Today I want to talk about a more common, yet less understood, foot injury: Foot drop, also known as drop foot.
Foot drop is not a black and white injury like a fracture or a break. It is a symptom of an underlying problem and can be temporary or permanent. Foot drop describes the inability to lift the foot at the ankle due to the weakness or paralysis of the muscle, the tibialis anterior muscle, that lifts the foot. So as simple as it may sound, its actually very life altering.
The symptoms of drop foot are pretty obvious. While walking, people suffering from this condition drag their toes along the ground or bend their knees to lift their foot higher than usual to avoid the dragging. In some cases, the skin on the top of the foot and toes will feel numb.
There are several causes of drop foot. Most commonly, it is caused by an injury to the peroneal nerve, a branch of the sciatic nerve. Nerve impingement of the sciatic nerve as it leaves the low back can result in symptoms down in the peroneal nerve resulting in drop foot. The most common cause of damage to the peroneal nerve include trauma or injury to the knees. This can happen from working or a surgery.
Even degenerative conditions of the lumbar spine such as disc herniation or spinal stenosis have been linked with foot drop. As you may know, discs act as a pillow between bones, absorbing shocks and preventing the bones from touching or pinching the nerves that run between them. When a disc is herniated, or abnormally protruded, it can impinge on a nerve root and may cause the functional impairment of drop foot.
The opposite of disc herniation is spinal stenosis. This refers to the narrowing of a body channel in a way that is not normal. When the spinal cord starts to get compressed by the bones intended to protect it, the nerves, and ultimately you, will feel it and it is not pleasant.
Lastly, cases of drop foot have been a result of surgeries when done incorrectly or prolonged. We see this often in lower back surgeries, or even from hip or knee replacement surgeries.
There are ever-day activities that can increase your risk of foot drop. Crossing your legs or prolonged kneeling can continually compress the peroneal nerve. Many lines of work require these daily tasks such as office jobs or skilled trade jobs.
There are other situations that can be tied to work related injuries. Let's say you were involved in a slip and fall accident, not of your fault, and the nerve was damaged. Maybe you had an injury to the knee while at work. Or perhaps you were in a car accident and suffer multiple fractures to the leg which damages a section of the nerve. The list could go on, but if you were injured on the job as no fault your own, you may have a claim for compensation.
The truth is that drop foot cases don't come up in Illinois workers comp every day. So it's really important to make sure your lawyer understands the medicine behind this problem.
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