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AU Registered Medical Device
12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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TENS Unit for Drop Foot: How to Treat the Condition with Electrotherapy

A person holding their foot with both hands

Drop foot, also known as foot drop, is the inability to lift the front part of the foot toward the shin. It is a condition that affects the muscles and nerves, causing paralysis of the ankle and toe. While various treatments are available, one effective method is electrotherapy or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). A TENS unit for drop foot uses electrical currents to improve nerve and muscle function and mobility in the affected area.

A foot drop condition causes difficulty lifting the foot and toes while walking, increasing the risk of trips and falls. Traditional treatments include braces or splints, medication, physical therapy, and surgery. However, these methods can be expensive and risky, especially the invasive procedures. On the other hand, electric stimulation offers a promising alternative for managing this condition. In this article, we will explore what is a TENS machine, how electrotherapy works, and how it can help with foot drop.

What is a TENS Unit for Foot Drop?

A TENS unit for foot drop is a medical device to help treat the condition. Foot drop is characterised by the inability to lift the front part of the foot, leading to dragging or slapping the foot while walking. This condition is due to various underlying factors, such as neurological disorders.

TENS is a portable battery-operated device with electrode pads. The electrodes send low-level electrical impulses through the skin to stimulate the nerves. Traditional electric stimulation devices are handheld with adjustable settings and wired electrode pads. However, some modern devices are wireless, integrating Bluetooth technology to connect remotely to a smartphone or tablet.

The electrical charge from the device helps activate and strengthen the foot muscles. Thus, it enables the individual to regain control and lift their foot properly. It can also help to alleviate pain and improve overall mobility, balance, and joint movement. Moreover, electrical stimulation devices can be a part of a comprehensive treatment plan. This may include physical therapy exercises, ankle-foot orthosis, and other conventional therapies.

Causes of Foot Drop

  • Neurological injuries such as a stroke or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
  • Muscular or neurological disorders, including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or spinal cord injuries.
  • Peroneal nerve injury. Damage to a branch of the sciatic nerve that travels down the leg to the feet and toes.
  • Certain medical conditions like vitamin deficiencies or Lyme disease may contribute to the development of foot drop.
  • Muscular dystrophy. It is a group of genetic disorders that leads to progressive muscle weakness and degeneration.
  • Diabetic amyotrophy. A rare but debilitating complication of diabetes.
  • In some cases, it can be a side effect of certain medications or surgical procedures.

Two TENS machines with a refillable gel pad pack

How a TENS Unit for Foot Drop Works

A TENS unit for foot drop uses electrical stimulation to activate the muscles and nerves in the affected area. This enables people with foot drop to regain control and lift their feet properly. The device has adjustable settings to modulate the flow of electric currents. Mainly, it disrupts the transmission of pain signals to the brain, alleviating nerve damage symptoms.

Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) is another type of treatment that is more specific for inducing muscle contraction. It utilises higher frequencies and intensities. These directly activate the muscles involved in foot movement. The long-term use can help to increase the muscle mass and improve muscle strength. Additionally, it aids in restoring the normal gait, voluntary contraction, and range of motion.

People with foot drop may combine FES and TENS for a comprehensive treatment. Through electrical muscle activation, the paralysed muscles can become stronger and more responsive over time. Furthermore, individuals may use it alongside foot drop exercises to maximise the benefits. Overall, TENS can help relieve pain and activate the muscles.

Benefits

Electrical nerve stimulation offers drug-free pain relief for symptoms of foot drop. It also stimulates the motor nerves to increase blood flow, promote muscle activation, and improve overall mobility. In addition, FES-based therapies showed improvements in functional abilities, including increases in walking speed and gait endurance.

By combining TENS with conventional treatments, individuals with foot drop can enhance physiological movement. This is also beneficial for post-stroke individuals to regain control of their feet and improve their walking ability. TENS units are portable and easy to use, making them convenient for daily use at home or on the go.

Using four wireless TENS machines on the leg and foot

How to Treat the Condition with TENS Unit for Foot Drop

To use the TENS unit for drop foot, place the electrodes on the affected area, usually around the foot and ankle. Ensure the skin is clean and dry and the electrodes are correctly in place. Then, turn on the device and adjust it to the desired frequency and intensity. It is best to start with a low intensity and gradually increase to a comfortable level.

Set the stimulation to a level that induces the muscles to contract and relax. However, the currents should not cause discomfort. Another way to use the TENS machine is for foot pain relief. This involves setting the frequency and intensity depending on the type or level of pain. For example, a low-intensity is ideal for mild to moderate aches. It helps boost circulation and relax the muscles.

Individuals may use the TENS unit for 30 minutes to an hour for each session. Nevertheless, it is essential to follow the instructions of a doctor or physical therapist for safe and effective results. Using a TENS unit regularly can help attain optimal results.

Proper Pad Placement

For drop foot treatment, it is recommended to place one pad on the muscle belly of the tibialis anterior muscle. This muscle is located on the front of the lower leg and is responsible for lifting the foot upwards. Additionally, place the other pad on the gastrocnemius muscle, which is on the back of the lower leg.

It is vital to avoid electrode placement on areas with skin irritation, infection, or broken skin. Using a device in these areas may aggravate the condition and cause further discomfort or damage. Always secure the electrodes and ensure there is proper contact with the skin.

Conclusion

Drop foot is a limiting condition affecting the ability to lift the foot, causing the individual to drag the toes while walking. This increases the risk of falls and accidents. Fortunately, electrotherapy can be an effective strategy to improve the condition. The TENS unit for drop foot sends electrical impulses, causing the muscles to contract. Moreover, TENS is beneficial for pain relief. It provides a non-invasive and drug-free approach, minimising the need for medication or surgery.

To use the device, place the electrodes on the lower leg muscles and adjust the settings. Individuals may consult a healthcare provider to guide them on the proper pad placement and usage. It may also require long-term management to maintain the benefits and regain mobility. Furthermore, combining electrical stimulation with exercises can help the muscles to become more responsive over time. Overall, this can help improve the condition, leading to a better quality of life.

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