Running with Drop Foot Syndrome: What to Expect

running with drop foot syndrome

It’s almost inevitable that at some point in your running career, you will encounter an injury like Drop Foot Syndrome.  You will probably have many over the years.  But telling yourself not to run on it is easier said than done.  I recently started experiencing Drop Foot Syndrome, and forcing myself to rest (especially with a marathon planned), seems worse than the injury itself.  I know that if I don’t stay off of it I’ll only be increasing my recovery time.

It almost brought me to tears when I awoke one morning last week to find that my right leg had gone numb.  It’s a faint numbness, extending from the knee to the foot.  I shrugged it off for a day or two, running shorter distances, and hoping that it would just go away on its own.  But it didn’t.  It didn’t get worse either.  However, I knew that I had to get it checked out.  I went to the doctor and he ordered up an MRI of my brain and lower back.  He wanted to rule out a couple of things.

There are three main causes of Drop Foot Syndrome:

  • Nerve injury. The most common cause of foot drop is compression of the nerve that controls the muscles involved in lifting the foot. This can happen at the knee or in the lower spine. The nerve can also be injured during hip or knee replacement surgery. Long-term nerve damage associated with diabetes can also cause foot drop.
  • Muscle or nerve disorders. Various forms of muscular dystrophy, an inherited disease that causes progressive muscle weakness, may contribute to foot drop. Other disorders, such as polio or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, also can cause foot drop.
  • Brain and spinal cord disorders. Disorders that affect the spinal cord or brain — such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis or stroke — may cause foot drop. by Mayo Clinic Staff
drop foot syndrome running

My problem is most likely a nerve injury, seeing as it begins at my knee.  Apparently I hit a bump somewhere and didn’t even realize it.  Or, I may have slowly damaged the nerve over time.  Luckily, my scans came back looking great!  To the left, you’ll notice that my back looks stronger than an ox.  Most importantly, no discs are out of place, which would be an indication of a more serious problem. 

The doctor told me that my brain looked healthy too; no signs of trauma.  He also ruled out a herniated disc; a spine condition that occurs when the gel-like center of a disc ruptures.  In sever cases, drop foot can occur from a herniated disc.

Having ruled out the more serious issues, what next?  I am now patiently pacing waiting to see a neurologist on Thursday who will diagnose me further, and hopefully give me some exercises to do.  In the worst-case scenario, I will have to undergo surgery. At this point, I am willing to do whatever it takes to get back out on the trails.  But for now, I am staying off of my feet and waiting to see what the neurologist says. 

For those of you who have read my book, you will understand how tough this really is for me.  Each day without running, is like a day without sunshine.  I even had to cancel my upcoming marathon.  What a bummer!  Luckily, my friend Bob (Juice) will be running it for me. I know he’ll do great, representing vegan runners everywhere!

[Update:  Saw a neurologist today.  It turns out that I have a damaged peroneal nerve in my right leg.  It was from sitting at my computer desk with my legs crossed for hours at a time.  So relieved to know that it wasn’t something worse.  He prescribed rest and steroids.]

Have you had to force yourself to rest due to an injury?  Or cancel a race?  Tell me how you got through it.

injured foot photo courtesy:

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