I'll tell you why drop foot is a favorite learning for me. Before I ever was diagnosed, before I began to think about being diagnosed, I had a drop foot incident. Now that I claim the MS title, drop foot is a part of my life. I want to learn about it. Two physical therapists have taught me ways to diminish it.
I will start with what I learned recently. This information comes from Herbert Karpatkin, who presented an online teleconference on walking, balance and flexibility in October of 2012 (http://msfocus.org/article-details.aspx?articleID=511).
He stresses a three-part regimen. Here is the rationale: If there is a loss of range of motion or flexibility in one part of the body, the opposite part is week. For drop foot—the calf needs stretching AND the muscles raising the toe up off the ground need to be strengthened. The regimen is this: Stretch, flex, walk.
- Stretch. If you have foot drop the minimum he suggests is five to 10 minutes a day, 365 days a week. A prolonged gentle stretch is better than a one-time shorter intense stretch.
Place your right foot about 12, 18 inches in front of your left. Place both hands on the wall and bend your right knee. Keeping the left knee straight, lean forward until you feel a pulling in that left calf.
- Make the muscles that lift the toe (the dorsiflexors) stronger. Flex the toes and release them. You can do this standing, sitting, lying down, there is about no time you can’t do this, so, Just Do It. Now, make it count. Pull the toes up, hold them for maybe 3 to 5 seconds. Then release: releasing is important: let the flex go slowly, slowly, slowly. The slowness is an important part of the release.
- Practice a particular sort of walking. Walk with intention: make sure the heel lands first. Focus on pulling the toes up and landing on the heel on every step.
My own physical therapist heard my complaint about drop foot and gave me an assignment. “Set a timer for 10 minutes, and walk continuously while consciously holding your toes toward you (flexed) as you step forward. Walk for ten minutes this way, then walk normally the rest of the day. If you can do this for ten minutes, you will find that you can remind yourself to walk this way more and more of the time, until the drop foot is no longer a problem.”
She was right! I still have drop foot, but I can walk miles a day, something that was way beyond me before this exercise.
Note: I have to keep my mind on keeping the toe up, because it doesn't happen instinctively any longer. Sometimes when I walk I am like the man with autism who had to remind himself to smile in public because it wasn't instinctive for him, to smile. I remind myself to hold my toe up. We MSers find ways to accomplish our goals, this is mine!