How I Manage Foot Drop

Foot drop is a condition that makes it difficult for a person to move their foot upward. When walking, instead of the foot flexing up, the toes and front of the foot can drag on the ground instead. Foot drop can be caused by a variety of conditions and is a common problem for people with multiple sclerosis. I began having problems with my gait in 2004. Several years later, part of the problem was identified as foot drop on my right side.

I was treated by a physical therapist who determined that I was a candidate for an ankle-foot orthotic (AFO). I was referred to an orthotist and was fitted for an AFO. At this point I was beyond excited to get some help with my foot drop. I wasn’t bothered by the idea of using an AFO. I was already using a cane and was pleased that something existed that could potentially help me get around easier.

When I went to pick up my AFO all that changed. The orthodoic barely fit into my sneaker. It was evident that I would need to wear special shoes to accommodate this contraption. The foot on my foot drop side already a half size larger than my other foot, I wasn’t pleased. What was most bothersome was that the AFO actually made it more difficult for me to walk. I sort of waddled from side to side as it was difficult for me to lift my new foreign appendage. I never used the AFO in public. I tried it around the house, but it only made walking more difficult. My balance was worse and I couldn’t feel any benefit using the orthodoic.

Soon after I saw a news story about a new device used to help people with problems like foot drop. It was a functional electrical simulation (FES) device worn on the leg just under the knee. The device stimulated the nerves sending a signal to the muscles to lift up the foot. I’d seen the ads in the MS Momentum magazine for these devices including the Bioness L300 and the WalkAide, but I didn’t really think of looking at using one to treat my foot drop. Since the AFO wasn’t working for me, this alternative now sparked my interest.

The news story led me to one of the hospitals near where I was living at the time for an evaluation. I was fitted with a Bioness L300 and experienced what was not a miracle but a huge improvement in my gait. I still needed my cane, but I moved along with significant improvement.

The evaluation determined that I was a candidate for the device. All I needed was a prescription from my doctor. And $6,200. I left that appointment and cried because I wanted that device more than I had wanted anything else in a long time. Although functional electronic stimulation devices such as the Bioness L300 are approved by the FDA, my insurance wouldn’t cover it. Luckily I was able to get financing and pay for the device with the help of several family members and my own savings.

I personally love my L300. It significantly helps my condition. Now I affectionately refer to it simply as “my leg”. I would highly recommend this device for people with foot drop.


The Bioness L300


Sassy and wearing “my leg”

The price tag of medical equipment can be an obstacle for many people. Here are some things to consider when trying to pay for costly medical equipment:

  • Don’t give up entirely on health insurance. Some companies will provide coverage or pay a portion of the cost. Submit the claim even if they say no at first. If they deny it, appeal it. Get a statement from your doctor and physical therapist.
  • Special credit cards like CareCredit offer financing plans with no interest for a period of time.
  • Contact your local chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. They may have small grants available or should know about other assistance programs in your area.

For a good overview on functional electrical stimulation devices for foot drop, check out the information on National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s website.