Foot drop is a common condition among victims of stroke and other traumatic brain injuries, and stroke therapy is often tailored to patients' specific challenges in the area of regaining range of motion and control in the hands and feet. Because foot drop causes the patient to drag his toe when walking, exercises to strengthen the ankle after a stroke are necessary to prevent further injury and to enable the patient to regain pre-stroke functions. Physical therapists recommend a variety of exercises and can help stroke victims make gains in ankle control by recording progress and setting treatment goals.
Many physical therapists rely exclusively on ankle exercises for stroke therapy, which strengthen the ankle through raising the body up on the toes or heels and holding, walking on the toes or heels, and rocking back and forth from toe to heel. Walking is also a key element used to strengthen the ankle and reduce foot drop during stroke therapy, and stroke victims often practice walking with their therapist or a family member multiple times per day, focusing on increasing the distance walked each day and on increasing the gait speed. Therapists will also usually increase the amount of time spent holding a standing position on the toes or heels, or increase the repetitions of exercises that a patient does in stroke therapy.
Some physical therapists also recommend the use of weight training to reduce foot drop. Because the stroke patient is working to regain control of the muscles in the foot and ankle, weight training that builds muscle has been found to help some patients strengthen the ankle. Although medical researchers debate whether or not new muscle can be built on the affected side of the body, some therapists and patients have found weight training exercises to increase control of the muscles regardless of the amount of muscle that can be built through training. Weight exercises to strengthen the ankle include resistance exercises for raising and lowering the toe, as well as exercising the full range of motion for the ankle and hip, which patients often use to compensate for foot drop when walking.
Tools for Stroke Therapy
A number of therapy tools exist for helping patients eliminate foot drop while stroke therapy is ongoing. A plastic ankle-foot orthotic (AFO) is often used to keep the foot in position while walking and prevent the toe from dragging. While this tool does not strengthen the ankle, it does provide the support needed to prevent foot drop while the patient is recovering from a stroke or other brain injury. Another tool is a neuroprosthesis, which uses electrodes to detect foot position and stimulate the muscles to promote proper muscular behavior and ankle motion while walking. While these tools are too expensive for individual patients to purchase for home use, they may present an effective tool for speeding recovery during stroke therapy when used by a physical therapist in conjunction with walking and ankle motion exercises.