Picture of trainers illustrating MS foot drop and functional electrical stimulation

Foot Drop and FES

Foot drop (otherwise known as drop foot), is a symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS). Essentially, it’s where nerve pathways between the brain and leg become disrupted which leads to difficulties in the ability to lift your toes. The foot becomes more difficult to lift to the correct angle which means your toes might drag on the floor (you might notice your shoes getting scuffed more).

When you live with foot drop, the energy required to keep lifting the foot to walk can increase fatigue levels and vice versa – it can come and go depending on levels of fatigue. The more fatigued you are, often the more difficult lifting the foot becomes as well as your ability to walk.

What can help with footdrop?

There are several things you can do to help with this MS symptom.

Speak to your MS nurse or neurologist

Ensure they are aware of what you are experiencing. A GP can refer for a neurophysiotherapy assessment to understand the finer details of what is happening.

Seeing a physiotherapist

They can help to advise on specific exercises that support a better functional capacity and help maintain a neutral foot position.

A physio can also help with other symptoms that may have an impact on your foot drop, such as spasms and spasticity, altered gait, and give you advice on equipment that may help to support your foot and ankle.

A foot orthosis

This is a device that can be worn to help hold the foot and ankle in the correct position. Usually made of plastic or carbon, they’re discreetly worn under trousers and can make a big difference.

Your physiotherapist and/or MS nurse can refer you to an orthotist to ensure you are fitted with the correct size.

Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES)

This type of treatment works by sending small electrical impulses to motor nerves that are connected to your muscles. FES supports muscles to act regularly through stimulation, particularly in regard to movement. This works particularly well with foot drop, and studies have shown that people report fewer falls and more positive outcomes.

Using FES can help improve confidence when walking as well as improve walking speed and the ability to walk further distances.

There are different types of FES, the original version has small wires that are attached to electrodes and a heel switch that is placed inside your shoe. As designs have improved there are now wireless versions available.

It is possible to have FES funded by the NHS, but this is dependent on your local area and therefore not guaranteed. There is further information about funding on the Odstock Medical website where you’ll find useful factsheets explaining how FES can help a variety of different conditions, including MS.

Ottobock is another brand of FES. These are wireless devices whereby a cuff is worn just below the knee and sometimes around the thigh as well. Their website shows where all their local FES Clinical Partners are so you can see where to be referred. There is also a form you can complete for a full list. As with Odstock, you can watch some video clips of those who have found the benefits of FES for their foot drop.

When fitted correctly, FES can have positive results and make a big improvement in your quality of life.