Foot drop is a condition that impairs mobility in the foot, making it difficult to walk. Fortunately, there are ways to regain mobility in the foot — and one of the best methods includes foot drop exercises.
Exercises for foot drop are designed to help strengthen the lower limb muscles so that you can lift your foot up normally again. Exercise also helps stimulate and rewire the brain, which makes it an effective way to overcome foot drop after a stroke or brain injury.
You’re about to discover a dozen foot drop exercises that you can start doing at home. At the end, you’ll discover other treatments for foot drop that can help boost your results even more.
How Does Physical Therapy Help Foot Drop?
Foot drop (also called drop foot) is a condition that impairs your ability to lift the top part of your foot (and our toe area) up toward your shin. This movement is known as dorsiflexion, and it’s important for walking properly and maintaining balance.
To move your muscles, the brain must send signals that tell your muscles when to contract and relax. When brain injury or stroke affects the areas of the brain that sends these signals, it can lead to foot drop.
Foot drop exercises help strengthen the muscles in the area and rewire the brain to improve your brain’s ability to send the correct signals to move your foot. This rewiring process is known as neuroplasticity, and it’s key to foot drop recovery.
Consistent practice of therapeutic exercises provides the brain with the stimulation it needs to relearn the skill of dorsiflexion. Most physical therapists send patients home with a sheet of exercises to practice on their own at home to provide the brain with the repetition it needs to recover.
Now that you know why exercises for foot drop are important, let’s start exercising.
Foot Drop Exercises for At-Home Physical Therapy
The following foot drop exercises feature physical therapist Liliana, DPT. She’s the same therapist that guides our leg exercises on YouTube.
Liliana has experience helping patients with foot drop regain mobility using these exact exercises. Here are some of her best physical therapy exercises for foot drop, organized from easiest to hardest:
1. Ankle Dorsiflexion
Start this passive foot drop exercise with your affected leg still crossed over your other leg. Then, use your non-affected arm to move your foot into dorsiflexion. This is the exact movement that people with foot drop struggle with, so this exercise is a perfect starting point.
This is a passive movement, which is a great starting point for anyone struggling with extremely limited mobility. It will also help reduce the chances of your foot and ankle muscles becoming stiff from lack of movement.
2. Ankle Adduction/Abduction
For another great passive foot drop exercise, cross your affected leg over your other leg. Then, use your non-affected hand to move the toe part of your foot up and down. (The foot will be moving side to side along the ankle with the bottom of your foot staying perpendicular to the floor.) Focus on initiating all the movement from your ankle.
Passive exercises are great for patients with severely limited mobility. If you already have some movement, then add some challenge by doing the exercise without assistance from your hand (i.e. “active exercise”).
3.Assisted Toe Raises
Toe raises are the most difficult movement to perform with foot drop. If you have difficulty with this movement — that’s okay! Fortunately, this is another passive exercise that you can use to help spark neuroplasticity and rewire the brain.
Start by placing your affected foot on top of your non-affected foot. Then, use your non-affected foot to lift your foot up. Use slow, intentional movements to help stimulate the brain.
Lift your foot up and down during this exercise a total of 10 times or more.
This active foot drop exercise is the opposite of toe raises. Although this may not feel like it’s helping with foot drop, it will help train the surrounding muscles.
To perform heel raises, start with your feet flat on the ground. Then, point your toes and lift your heels off the ground. Repeat 10 times.
For this active foot drop exercise, place your affected foot flat on the ground. Then, lift the outside edge of your foot and toes up, then relax back down.
Focus on initiating the movement from your foot and ankle and try to avoid making the movement with your leg. Repeat 10 times.
6. Ankle Inversion
For ankle inversion, start in the same position but move the inside edge of your foot and toes up towards the midline of your body, then relax back down.
7.Single Leg Stands
Standing on one foot is another great way to exercise ankle eversion and challenge your ankle stability in general.
Patients with foot drop who have enough strength and balance can try to stand on their affected leg for 15 seconds at a time. Be sure to hold onto the back of a chair for stability so that you don’t fall. The risk of falling is greater in patients with foot drop, so don’t skip this step.