Foot drop – sometimes called drop foot – is the inability to lift the front part of the foot. This can lead to your foot dragging across the ground. This weakness in your foot will likely make it more difficult for you to walk, move about regularly, exercise, and may leave you at a bigger risk for falls. You may also feel numbness, tingling, or burning in your foot.
Foot drop can happen after undergoing surgery to your back, hips, knee, or leg. It usually occurs when a physician or medical staff helping with the surgery damages a nerve called the peroneal nerve. The peroneal nerve wraps from the back of the knee to the front of the shin and supplies or controls movement to the lower leg, foot, and toes. Therefore damage to this nerve can result in weakness and decreased movement in your foot, i.e. foot drop. This nerve can be injured when it is compressed for a long period of time or is cut.
Unfortunately during surgery a compression injury can happen on an unoperated body part. This happened to a client of the Thistle Firm who came out of surgery to her right knee with foot drop to her left foot. This kind of injury can happen due to the misplacement of a restraining strap, rolling out of the limb to place undue pressure on the peroneal nerve, or direct pressure on the nerve by an assistant or piece of operating room equipment. While the negligence that caused the injury can be shown during litigation, this type of injury is one that does not happen in the absence of medical negligence. Therefore it will be important to show the injury happened during the surgery (one example is when the patient reports foot drop symptoms soon after she wakes up from being under anesthesia) where the surgeon and operating room staff had control over the patient.
To relieve a compression injury to a nerve you could receive steroid injections to reduce swelling and pressure on the nerve. If the injury is severe enough you could also undergo decompression surgery which is surgery to reduce the pressure to the peroneal nerve and remove any lesions. Unfortunately if the compression injury is bad enough neither steroid injections nor surgery can fix it and your foot drop can be permanent. If the peroneal nerve was cut during surgery your outlook is grimmer. You could undergo nerve grafting surgery – where a portion of a nerve is taken from one part of your body and used to attach the severed nerve ends of the peroneal nerve. However there is no guarantee this will work and you may lose some sensation in the part of the body the nerve used for the grafting was taken from.
Foot drop can also happen after back surgery. For example a plate or screw used in fusion surgery can be pressing on a nerve that runs into your foot and leg. When this happens whether it was just an unfortunate risk of the surgery or negligence depends on the facts of the case. The physician performing surgery on your back could also cut a nerve that runs into your leg and foot. In this scenario it is more likely there was some negligence involved in your care but it again depends on the facts and circumstances of your case.
Ultimately whether or not you have a case for your foot drop injury following surgery will depend on a review of the records, the severity of the injury, and a review of the case with medical experts. The attorneys at the Thistle Law Firm are experienced in handling foot drop cases and are here to answer your questions at 215-568-6800.