Foot drop and MS: Putting a spring in your step

19 October 2023

Foot drop, or dropped foot, is a symptom which affects many people with MS. It’s caused by disruption in the nerve pathway between the legs and the brain. This stops your toe lifting when you walk, which can cause trips and falls. Foot drop can be treated using orthotic supports or by using a functional electrical stimulation device (FES), which discharges a small electrical pulse to your nerve to help your foot lift correctly.

The MS Trust funded the first randomised control trials into the use of FES and we have worked towards getting it established in MS care. Although access to FES for foot drop is patchy around the UK, for some people it has made a huge difference to their mobility and independence. 

What is it like to use a FES device if you have multiple sclerosis? Physiotherapist Christine Singleton talked to FES user Sarah about the impact of functional electrical stimulation on her mobility and life with MS.

Sarah's FES experience

Sarah says: My FES has boosted my confidence enormously because I now feel confident to walk outside, because we all know how treacherous the pavements can be. I am now walking for some distance, so I am developing stamina and getting exercise too. For the first time in 30 years I’ve been walking in my local park. I’ve been in there lots of time before in my wheelchair scooter but it is so nice to be able to be walking.

My posture is also better. People tell me that I look as though I am walking with ease, rather than struggling. I am holding myself more upright, my centre of gravity has moved back and I have less back pain twinges. It really has been hugely beneficial.

Tips for using orthotics

Not everyone finds FES helpful or appropriate. For some people with MS, an orthotic support like a splint or brace will be more effective. Modern orthoses can be lightweight, easy to wear under or over clothing, and can make a big difference to your walking ability and fatigue.

Specialist physiotherapist Helen Conyers demonstrates how to use orthotic supports to help lift your foot and prevent stumbling or trips.

Find out more

Functional electrical stimulation (FES) Our A-Z page all about FES for MS

Foot drop Our A-Z page all about foot drop or dropped foot, including other treatments.

Walking difficulties Our A-Z page about walking problems in MS

Using orthoses for walking difficulties Emma Davidson, a clinical specialist orthotist in Glasgow, explains how orthotics can be used with MS foot drop.

Getting to grips with using a walking aid This episode of our podcast discusses when is the right time to consider using walking aids and what difference they can make.

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