If you suspect you might have foot drop, your mind might already be worrying about the possibility of surgery, foot braces, or other extremes. Before you let panic set in, you can easily and quickly test for foot drop right in the comfort of your home.
Many everyday activities that include the use of your feet can lead you to wonder: “do I have drop foot?” Trouble operating the foot pedals while driving, tripping over the stairs in your house, and other routine activities reveal the health, or lack thereof, of your feet.
The feet are vital body components, and issues such as drop foot should not be ignored. Even more pressingly, conditions in the feet can point to significant and serious problems happening elsewhere in the body. So it’s important to notice any change in the feet’s functionality.
A quick search on the internet and you might have already diagnosed your foot problems as drop foot. First, however, there are a few basics to be aware of about the foot drop condition. Plus, there are tests for foot drop that you can do at home before calling a doctor.
Foot drop tests can be easy, painless, completely cost-free, and a simple step to getting you on your way to happier, healthier feet.
What Is Drop Foot?
Drop foot, also called foot drop, is a state in which lifting the front part of the foot is difficult or impossible.
Foot drop is typically not a stand-alone concern, but instead a sign of deeper underlying issues, in which foot drop is only a symptom. Trouble lifting the front of your foot can be caused by a variety of factors and circumstances, including a previous stroke, injury, and neural or physical ailments.
These simple, easy tests for foot drop can be done in the comfort of your home.
How To Test for Foot Drop
Testing yourself for drop foot can save you time and money on specialized care, and help you better describe your condition should you decide to be formally examined.
The Manual Muscle Test (Standing)
This test can be done in one of two ways: sitting or standing.
The standing version of this test requires some balance, so before administering, ensure you are in a safe place near a sturdy surface, like your kitchen counter, to steady yourself. It can also be helpful to have someone nearby for assistance.
Find a reliable surface to hold onto with one or both hands, such as a wall, countertop, or railing. Once you’ve established your grip, lean onto your heels and attempt to lift your toes. Notice if one or both feet have trouble lifting the front of the foot completely off the floor.
Try to balance on your heels, lifting the front of your foot off the floor for up to 5-10 seconds. If you cannot lift the front of your foot, it’s an appropriate time to schedule an appointment with a doctor for further assessment.
2. The Manual Muscle Test (Sitting)
The second version of this test is done sitting down. In a comfortable chair, place your feet flat on the ground. Using your foot and leg muscles, try to lift the front of your foot, toes and all, off the ground.
If you can lift the front of your foot so that it is not touching the ground, press down on the top of the foot. This gentle pressure will help assess how much strength the foot possesses, and how much force it would take for your foot's stability to lessen before it falls back to the ground again.
If the front of the foot does not lift, this could be a sign of drop foot and a good indication that further testing is required.
3. The Stair Test
If there are stairs in your house or leading up to your apartment, you might have incidentally given yourself the stair test for drop foot already. The stair test essentially uses walking up and down stairs to show if you have drop foot.
This test does involve a bit of risk and is best done with the help of someone who can keep you from falling if you struggle with strength or balance. Alternatively, you can try the stair test at a medical office with the help of a doctor, specialist, or physical therapist.
Using a stair or step, holding firmly onto the railing for support, step up one foot at a time. As you step up, notice if the front of the foot drags on the step before you land. As you become more comfortable, increase the speed of your stepping up and down to notice a more natural movement of the feet, as if you were using the stairs on typical occasions.
Pay attention to notice if the toes hit the front of the stair, or the entire front of the foot generally drags before landing on the next step. Your body might be telling you of drop foot, and thus letting you know that other issues are happening inside.
4. The Walking Test
A simple walking test can help you see if drop foot is hiding right under your nose. A full-body view of your gait from the side will yield the most accurate perspective. Ask a friend to be your witness, or use the camera on your phone to videotape as you walk for the best full-body perspective.
Find a space where you can walk unimpeded for up to 15 feet. Strolling as you typically would as if no one were watching, traverse the space in a direct line, at a normal pace. With the help of your friend or your video, watch to see if either foot drags while you walk.
This test is also sometimes called the Drag or Slap test. In some cases, drop foot will manifest as the walker lifting their entire foot into the air with each step, and the foot subsequently slapping onto the ground as it steps. If you notice the front of your foot slapping down with each forward step, this can also be a sign you have drop foot.
Pay close attention to your cadence, looking to see if either foot under-function while walking. Any sign of imbalance in foot function may also indicate drop foot.
5. The Jump Test
Please note: this test is best practiced with a sturdy surface to lean on and help nearby. Make sure a friend or assistant is close at hand. Jumping is not safe for everyone, depending on health and stability.
This test for drop foot is not a good option for anyone with joint or leg issues or pain or those that struggle with standing, jumping, or high-impact activities.
Begin by standing upright, holding securely onto a sturdy surface such as a countertop or railing (do not use the back of a chair, as a chair can wobble when you jump). Bend your knees and, with substantial effort, attempt to jump off the ground. Administer enough energy that both feet lift entirely off the ground when you jump.
With drop foot, one or both feet will likely not leave the ground during this test. In less severe cases, both feet might lift off the ground, but not with much distance or list to unequal heights.
What To Do With Your Results
After trying these tests for drop foot, what should you do?
If your foot drop test indicates you do have difficulty utilizing the front of your foot, or it seems likely you suffer from drop foot, don’t wait to call your doctor. As stated, foot drop can signal serious issues in the body, brain, and spine. Issues in the brain and spine are not to be taken lightly; identifying and treating as quickly as possible is vital.
If, after testing, you are still not sure or not ready to schedule an appointment, try another test from the list above. Results further showing signs of drop foot mean the safest option would be to schedule a professional exam.
Should you need the help of a medical professional, your doctor will likely implement more conclusive medical testing in the form of nerve ultrasounds, blood tests, or imaging such as CT and MRI scans.
In severe cases, surgery or physical therapy are commonly required. More moderate cases may only need simple and affordable support solutions such as inserts inside your shoes or braces.
Your doctor may also prescribe exercises you can do daily on your own. These can be added to your morning or evening routine, working to strengthen the foot and improve mobility.
The most important thing to remember is that drop foot is more treatable with an earlier diagnosis, so start with these tests for foot drop today. A healthy life of walking, and functioning normally is possible if drop foot is caught in time. Don’t let symptoms or the condition worsen; get the help you need for both your feet and the true causes of drop foot in your body.