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Foot Drop After Back or Spine Surgery

Posted by:

Johannes Sauer

Published at: June 18, 2024

Table of Contents
  1. What is Foot Drop?

  2. Common Causes of Foot Drop After Back Surgery

    1. Nerve Compression or Injury

    2. Neurological Conditions

    3. Stroke

    4. Cerebral Palsy

    5. Neuropathy

    6. Diabetes

    7. Early Signs of Drop Foot After Back Surgery

    8. How Can Adaptive Shoes Improve Your Foot Drop?

Foot drop can be a common complication of back or spine surgery. According to this paper, up to 8.8% of patients may experience foot drop after lumbar disc surgery. 

This post will explain how back or spine surgery can lead to the development of foot drop, as well as offer some recommendations for what you can do if you experience foot drop after back surgery.

What is Foot Drop?

Let’s start with the basics and explain what foot drop is. This condition is one where you have a difficult time lifting the front part of your foot. It produces an unnatural, dragging gait. 

Foot drop is a symptom, not a diagnosis, and may have more than one potential cause. Sometimes the underlying problem is muscular. Other times, it is with nerves or other aspects of a patient’s anatomy. Foot drop can sometimes be reversed, but other times is lifelong.

Common Causes of Foot Drop After Back Surgery

Why does back or spine surgery sometimes lead to foot drop as a complication? Let’s go over some explanations.

Nerve Compression or Injury

Surgery is sometimes performed to try and decompress nerves that are already compressed. But occasionally, a nerve might end up being compressed or damaged during surgery. If that happens, you might develop nerve damage that could result in foot drop. 

In some cases, that nerve damage might gradually heal, or the compression may stop once swollen tissues have a chance to recover.

In others, however, the compression or injury could be long-term in nature, resulting in long term foot drop as well.

Before your surgery, your doctor will discuss this and other possible risks and complications with you so you can make an informed decision.

Neurological Conditions

Some patients can develop neurological complications after a surgery, particularly older patients. Those neurological complications may increase the chances of experiencing foot drop and other symptoms. 

In addition, going into a surgery with certain existing health conditions can increase the risk for complications, including foot drop. It is important to be aware of these heightened risks.

Stroke

Stroke can cause foot drop in up to 20-30% of patients. So, for those who experience stroke, there is a strong chance of having a hard time lifting the feet while walking afterwards.

Cerebral Palsy

Patients with certain neurological conditions can also be more prone to post-surgical complications than the general population. This is common among patients with cerebral palsy, for example. Learn more about walking with CP.

Neuropathy

It is relatively rare for a patient to develop neuropathy as a result of a surgery. But when it happens, the outcome can be severe, and sometimes permanent. 

Peripheral neuropathy is a type of neuropathy that affects the legs and feet, which can cause foot drop.

Diabetes

Diabetes is another condition that can increase your chances of developing complications from a surgery on your back or spine. 

Please note that the conditions we discussed above are not an exhaustive list of those that should be considered with relation to back surgery. Talk to your doctor about your risks. Be sure to disclose all of your health conditions and medications during the conversation.

Early Signs of Drop Foot After Back Surgery

If you are having a hard time lifting the front of your foot when you walk after surgery, that might mean you have developed foot drop. Check if your feet are dragging while you walk, or if you are experiencing weakness or numbness. Sometimes your toes may curl as well. 

If you are not sure whether you are experiencing foot drop or not, you can always contact your doctor to describe your symptoms. This is a wise move anyway, so you can get their personalized recommendations.

How Can Adaptive Shoes Improve Your Foot Drop?

If you are having a hard time lifting the fronts of your feet, walking can become challenging. You may be uncomfortable as your feet drag along the ground. In addition, this type of gait is dangerous, because it is easy to trip and fall when you cannot reliably clear obstacles by lifting your feet completely off the ground. 

Nevertheless, it is important to keep walking when you have foot drop, whether it is from a surgery, or from MS or another condition.

Walking with foot drop gives you a way to improve your gait over time and increase your range of motion. Plus, it can help you to stay healthy and speed up your overall recovery from your surgery.

So, how can you get back to walking when you have foot drop? One of the biggest steps you can take (pun intended) is to purchase the right kind of footwear.

There are actually shoes that have been especially designed for patients with foot drop. An example is the Cadense Original Adaptive Shoes for men and women featuring patented variable friction technology. 

This technology helps the wearer to “glide” over uneven surfaces, even if they have foot drop. So, even though lifting the front of your feet fully may not be possible for you yet, you are more likely to be able to walk smoothly and safely over obstacles without tripping and falling. 

While the patented variable friction technology is the main feature of Cadense Original Adaptive Shoes that makes them ideal for patients with foot drop, these shoes boast other features that also benefit people with foot drop.

  • The shoes feature a wide base, which contributes to increased stability while you are walking.

  • The enhanced depth of the shoes gives you room for a custom insert if you need extra support.

  • There is plenty of cushioning and support even without adding an insert. The shoes have a snug fit, but are not too tight, preventing circulation problems or discomfort while walking. 

  • Putting on the shoes and taking them off is fast and easy.

  • The stylish design of Cadense Original Adaptive Shoes ensures that you will want to keep wearing them long after you have recovered from foot drop. 

Since these shoes were created by specialists, great attention to detail has gone into every aspect of their design.

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FAQ

How long is recovery time from foot drop after back surgery?

How long it takes to recover from foot drop after back surgery depends on the exact reason for the foot drop complication. In general, however, it is common for it to take a few months to recover from foot drop.

So, be patient, and follow your doctor’s orders as you work toward recovery. Try to be as consistent as possible with your exercise routine, but ensure you are getting sufficient rest as well. A consistent approach gives your body the best chance at healing fully.

What can I do at home to alleviate foot drop?

You can try performing foot drop exercises at home to help alleviate foot drop. It may seem difficult at first, but even something as simple as going on regular walks can help you to heal. Start gradually with your exercises, increasing their duration and moving on to more challenging ones as you improve. 

Note that it can be harder to stay safe from trips and falls with foot drop, even when you are in your own home. You may want to make some simple modifications, like putting away piles of clutter and removing obstacles from walkways. Consider improving illumination after dark as well. 

If you fall and hurt yourself, you will just have one more thing to recover from. So, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.

What is the downside to foot surgery?

If you happen to get surgery on the foot itself (including surgery for foot drop), you might experience complications. These could include bleeding, swelling, stiffness and infections. 

Because any surgery carries risks, it is vital that you discuss them with your doctor before you proceed. Your doctor can help you to assess the possible benefits and drawbacks, and how likely the advantages are to outweigh the potential risks. 

Note that many patients with foot drop are able to make a full recovery without drastic or invasive measures such as surgery.

How painful is foot surgery recovery?

The pain from foot surgery can be significant during the days immediately after the surgery. Usually patients begin to feel better within a week or so, sometimes less. Your doctor can prescribe you medications to help you manage the pain.

Posted by: Johannes Sauer

Johannes is the CEO and Co-Founder of Cadense and passionate about helping people with walking difficulties. Johannes is the CEO and Co-Founder of Cadense and passionate about helping people with walking difficulties. He was immediately drawn to the mission of the company because his cousin lost his lower leg in a tragic motorcycle accident a few years ago and is experiencing walking difficulties ever since. Johannes brings over a decade of experience in working for consumer product companies to Cadense. He holds an MBA from the University of Graz in Austria. Johannes lives with his family in Santa Barbara, CA.

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