4 Exercises to Correct Foot Drop and Anterior Tibialis Weakness

Get walking normally after drop foot with anterior tibialis exercises

If you have weakness in your anterior tibialis muscle, the muscle in the front of your shin in your lower leg, then you may have trouble flexing your ankle and lifting your foot off the ground. This is known as foot drop. It can also lead to a high-stepping gait. Fortunately, physical therapy can help you regain normal motion and strength in your leg.

There are many different treatments for foot drop, including neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) and ankle-foot orthotics that help stabilize and support the foot and ankle.

Exercise is one of your most important tools to correct foot drop caused by tibialis anterior weakness. These exercises involve specific motions that help improve the strength and function of the anterior tibialis muscle. Calf muscle stretches also help.

This article offers a step-by-step exercise plan for people struggling with foot drop. The exercises provide an ideal starting point for those who want to improve the function of a weak anterior tibialis muscle, ideally with the support of a physical therapist.

1

Seated Elastic Band Exercise for Foot Drop

This exercise requires an elastic resistance band. You can get one from your physical therapist, or you can buy one online or at your local sporting goods store.

Sit on the floor with your leg extended in front of you. Alternatively, you can sit on a chair with your foot propped up on another chair.

Tie a loop in your band. Attach one end to a stable object like the leg of a table or sofa, and secure the other around your foot near your toes. It may be helpful to have your lower leg resting on a small pillow so the heel of your foot does not rub on the ground.

To do the exercise:

  1. Pull your toes and foot up while keeping your knee straight. Only your ankle should move as you flex your foot up
  2. Pull your foot up as far as you can, hold the end position for a second or two.
  3. Slowly relax back to the starting position.

Perform this exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions or until your anterior tibialis muscle tires and you can no longer flex your ankle up. Then, move on to the next exercise.

2

Cuff Weight Exercise for Foot Drop

Ben Goldstein

A cuff weight is a padded weight that you can wrap around your foot or ankle. Start by sitting in chair and wrapping a cuff weight around your toes. Make sure it is secure. Let your foot rest on the floor,

To do the exercise:

  1. Begin the exercise by sitting with your cuff weight on your foot and then flexing your ankle so your foot and toes move up towards your knee.
  2. When your foot is flexed all the way up, hold the position for a couple of seconds,
  3. Slowly lower your toes back down to the starting position.

Repeat the exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions.

3

Isometric Exercise for Foot Drop

woman performing Isometric anterior tibialis strengthening on chair
Ben Goldstein

Isometric exercise is a type of motion in which you push against an object you can't move. It is simple to do, and it can help strengthen your anterior tibialis muscle in specific ranges of motion (ROM) in your ankle.

To perform isometric anterior tibialis strengthening, follow these simple directions:

  1. Sit in a chair or lie down.
  2. Cross one leg over the other with your affected leg on the bottom.
  3. Place your foot on top of the ankle you wish to exercise.
  4. Press the top of your weak foot into the sole of your other foot. Press down with the stronger foot to resist it. Remember, no motion should occur at your ankle joint.
  5. Hold this position for five seconds, and then slowly release.

Perform about 10 to 15 repetitions of the exercise, two or three times per day.

Isometric exercise can strengthen your muscles, but strength only occurs in the specific ROM in which you are exercising. That means that you should vary the position of your ankle when performing the exercise.

4

Seated Calf Stretch

woman performing Calf stretch on a yoga mat
Ben Goldstein

When your anterior tibialis muscle is weak, you will not be able to fully flex your foot. This may keep your ankle in a position where your calf is shortened. A shortened calf means a tight muscle, so stretching the calf may be necessary to fully correct your foot drop.

A simple method to stretch your calf is by doing the towel calf stretch:

  1. Wrap a towel around the ball of your foot, and keep your knee straight.
  2. Pull the ends of the towel so your foot flexes up and stretches your calf.
  3. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  4. Relax.

Perform three to five stretches several times per day.

Summary

Exercise is one of the best ways to treat foot drop caused by a weak or injured anterior tibialis muscle. The exercises strengthen the muscle under gentle resistance and can be performed at home as part of a physical therapy program.

A basic at-home exercise program only requires a chair, elastic band, and cuff weights. These specialty products are easily found online or at most sporting goods stores.

A Word From Verywell

Having foot drop from tibialis anterior weakness can prevent you from walking normally and limit your ability to accomplish daily tasks. Getting started on strengthening exercises is an important way to get moving normally again.

If foot drop is seriously affecting your mobility, ask your doctor for a referral to an orthopedist who can pinpoint the cause. The specialist can also advise you if there are any problems that limit the types of exercise you should do.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can a brace help with drop foot?

    Yes, a stiff brace is recommended for people who have permanent foot drop. An ankle-foot orthosis lifts the front foot and the toes to help improve your walking gait. It’s sometimes used in place of surgery or while recovering from foot surgery.

  • How long does foot drop last?

    It depends on the cause. If foot drop is the result of trauma or nerve damage, you can expect a partial or complete recovery, but it may take months of therapy and proper care. If it’s related to progressive neurological disorders, the condition may be permanent.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Foot drop.

  2. Kluding PM, Dunning K, O’Dell MW, et al. Foot drop stimulation versus ankle foot orthosis after stroke: 30-week outcomes. Stroke. 2013;44(6):1660-1669. doi:10.1161/STROKEAHA.111.000334

  3. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Foot drop information page.

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