Editor’s note: “Need to Know” is a series inspired by common forum questions and comments from readers. Have a comment or question about MS? Visit our forum. This week’s question is inspired by the forum topic “Do you suffer from the MS symptom of ‘drop foot?’” from Sept. 20, 2018.
Maybe you’re at the grocery store, your kid’s baseball game, or walking the dog when it happens. Suddenly, you struggle to lift your foot high enough to take a full step. Your toes catch or drag on the ground, and then you’re stumbling or even falling without an obvious obstacle to blame.
This describes a common symptom among people with multiple sclerosis: foot drop.
What causes foot drop?
People can experience this risky symptom for any number of reasons, including but not limited to spinal injury, stroke, and MS.
For those with MS, foot drop is caused by weakness in ankle muscles (a product of muscle weakness or spasticity related to MS) or poor nerve conduction between the brain and the legs. The latter is an outcome of demyelination, when disease activity leads to the development of lesions on brain tissue.
Why is foot drop a problem?
A foot drop problem is actually a fall-risk problem.
Research shows that more than half of people with MS experience falls over a three-month period. These falls can result in injuries such as sprains, fractures, and head trauma. They also can lead to an unwillingness to participate in physical activities for fear of falling, as well as lost time from work or school.
Falls don’t only happen to people who are otherwise upright and walking. According to research in 2017 cited by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), as many as 75 percent of people who use wheelchairs or scooters have reported one or more falls within a six-month period. These people may be using an assistive device to avoid falling, yet fight with gravity as the result of foot drop when transferring, if they are able to walk.
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