Physiotherapy staff could help to reduce falls and save the NHS money, by supporting the first ever Foot Drop Awareness Day, which takes place today.
Foot drop is a condition that occurs when muscular weakness or paralysis makes it difficult for a person to lift the front part of their foot and toes.
The national awareness day aims to educate the public about the condition and eradicate unmanaged cases, which can often cause falls.
It has been organised by the National Foot Drop Society, a charity that aims to raise awareness of physiotherapy and orthotic solutions for the condition.
Jon Graham, the clinical director of PhysioFunction, founded the organisation and told Frontline: ‘A fall with a fractured hip costs the NHS £25,000. The cost of fallers to NHS is £2 billion annually – how many of those are due to foot drop?
‘Foot drop is a common feature in stroke, MS, incomplete spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s and also in lumbar spine disc problems, hip and leg injuries.
‘And physiotherapy is vital to its management – which can involve stretches, strengthening, gait re-education, functional electrical stimulation or referral to an orthotist for suitable splints/orthotics.
‘But for various reasons, individuals with foot drop can slip through the net. I do not know a physio, or an orthoptist, who does not regularly encounter people with “unmanaged” foot drop in the community and they have to decide “do I approach this person and ask if they know that something can be done,” or walk on.’
Mr Graham added that once people become aware that their tripping and falling is due to foot drop, that knowledge allows them to find relevant information and treatment options.
‘But often they don’t know this is the medical term for the cause of their tripping or that something can always be done to help and make them safer.’
CSP members can back the awareness day by following the society’s messages on social media, and sharing the hashtag #nationalfootdropawarenessday to help raise awareness of #Footdrop
A holiday fall inspires change
Mr Graham founded the National Foot Drop Society after seeing someone with unmanaged foot drop fall over, whilst he was on holiday last year.
‘A fellow guest tripped up in front of me with her unmanaged foot drop and it occurred to me that “patients” needed to become aware that there is help available and they should approach their GPs to access physiotherapy.
‘The lady, who tripped in front of me had mild cerebral palsy and was an educated, middle class professional. But she had slipped through every net. Now, at age 45, a random encounter with me during her holiday has led to her seeking a physio and a functional electrical stimulation referral, and having a second lease at an active life without fear of falling.’
Mr Graham said he chose the date of 21 September for the inaugural Foot Drop Awareness Day because it is the last working day before the official start of autumn – which is also known as ‘fall’.
Knowledge empowers people
Eileen Gambrel is voluntary lead for the National Foot Drop Society and previously worked as an operations manager for Different Strokes, a charity for working age and younger stroke survivors.
‘I know from my experience of 20 years with Different Strokes, that there is frequently a lack of understanding around foot drop,’ she said.
‘People affected by it may struggle to obtain a formal diagnosis, and think “this is just part of my stroke and something I have to accept”.
‘It is often overlooked as being just one symptom of a greater problem and unfortunately this means people are not always aware of, or able to access, the limited information, resources and treatment options that could help them to manage their condition.’
However, by helping people to be more aware of their foot drop, physios could help empower people with the condition, she added, which would allow them to manage and improve their everyday life.
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