My balance, posture, and gait all improved.
It’s the worst feeling — that moment when my foot starts dragging behind me and my flip-flop breaks. Or my sneakers get scuffed, my sandals won’t stay on, or my toenail polish gets scraped. Forget wearing heels. That just feels dangerous.
All this happens thanks to foot drop, a condition that makes it difficult or impossible to lift the front of my foot and point my toes back toward my shin. Instead, the tops of my toes drag against the floor, causing me to trip over myself with what feels like every other step. It definitely makes walking a challenge.
Foot drop occurs when the dorsiflexors, a group of muscles that connect the ankle to the shinbone, become weak or paralyzed, due to a wide range of muscular and neurological conditions.
In my case, the cause is multiple sclerosis (MS), and it can make trying to flex these muscles feel like a great feat of strength. It can also lead to an uneven shuffling when walking.
To compensate for my weakened ankle and to avoid scraping my toes, I’ve learned to lift my knees and hips to move forward. According to a 2019 research review, this is a common strategy among people with foot drop.
But this lopsided stride leads to other issues, including creating a permanent strain on the plantiflexors (the muscles that help you point your toes) as well as shortening the Achilles tendon, making it even more difficult to flex the foot.
I was shying away from social outings, grocery shopping, exercise, or any other activity where I would have to walk in public.
Not only does this muscular imbalance create sore, achy feet, but studies have shown it can also lead to potentially dangerous falls, restrict one’s lifestyle, and have a negative impact on quality of life.
I found that to be true. Just as I overcompensated for my condition physically, I also found myself making adjustments socially. I was shying away from social outings, grocery shopping, exercise, or any other activity where I would have to walk in public. I began to feel defeated. (Get it? De-feet-ed, pun intended.)
Sure, foot drop can be treated with exercises and surgery. Even electrical stimulation can help, as it triggers the dorsiflexors to lift the foot. But these treatments take time to work, and I felt in need of urgent help.
After a couple of bad trips and falls down to the ground, I knew I needed support for this developing disability.
After scouring the internet for a few options, I learned about several types of ankle-foot orthoses, or AFOs, that help manage foot drop by bracing the ankle and holding the foot in a neutral position.
AFOs are made from a variety of materials, including plastics, metal, and leather, and can even be custom-molded from a cast. Some AFOs require a prescription from an orthopedic doctor, and those are usually knee-length devices that can feel rigid.
I quickly realized most AFOs were bulky and unsightly. After a little more reading, I learned that many are uncomfortable and complicated to buckle, which means you may need help to fasten them. In addition, they usually cost hundreds of dollars, and they won’t look cute no matter how you fashion your clothes to disguise them.
Then, I came across an affordable and accessible option: a lightweight, adjustable elastic brace that you wrap around your ankle and secure with Velcro.
Once it’s wrapped around my ankle, I take the Velcro-lined strap that’s attached to the front of the brace and loop it through my well-tied shoelaces to secure the brace to my sneaker, which helps me lift my foot.
For me, it was a win. After easily and quickly putting it on for the first time, I sported my new orthotic brace on a walk around the block.
It felt awkward in the beginning. The strap attached to my laces locked my ankle joint in place and made me feel restricted. I was doubtful of its success, to be honest — until I noticed that the usual dragging of my foot hadn’t kicked in yet.
I quickly realized I didn’t have to hold someone’s hand to support me while I walked. I didn’t find myself fearing a stumble and tumble. I was actually walking confidently!
Usually, my foot’s typical laggy behavior starts up within minutes, and my whole body shifts into a limp to counteract it. Instead, this brace caught my ankle’s weakness in stride and helped me step forward seamlessly. That restrictive feeling I first felt was actually what was protecting me.
That doubt I held minutes after donning this brace didn’t last long. I quickly realized I didn’t have to hold someone’s hand to support me while I walked. I didn’t find myself fearing a stumble and tumble. I was actually walking confidently!
I walked and walked, comfortably, for twice as long as I normally do. I was excited to wear the brace again. So I did, and it has quickly become a wardrobe staple for me.
If I forget to wear it, I will immediately notice a drastic difference in my gait. This orthotic foot brace has strengthened my balance, straightened my posture, and turned my boxy march into a smooth pace.
Now, I’m walking almost as normally as I did before foot drop set in, bringing me a welcome feeling of physical control. The brace helps me manage one of my most troublesome MS symptoms without the expense of an AFO, and it is subtle enough to hide under a pant leg to keep some semblance of fashion.
If you’re considering trying an orthotic for foot drop, here are a few tips:
Yes, foot drop can dampen your shoe game. I’ve officially quit wearing most of the selection in the shoe department, from heels to flip-flops. But thanks to this orthotic foot brace that attaches to laces, I’m still able to rock a pair of kicks. Thank goodness for sneaker culture.
Medically reviewed on March 02, 2022
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