As a general rule—and taking elective or cosmetic procedures out of the equation—surgery is considered to be a last resort in treatment. If we can take away your foot or ankle pain and fix the problem with conservative care, we will. Sometimes, however, this is simply not possible.

Now, the good news is that when you are treated surgically by our team at McDowell Orthopedics & Podiatry Group, you are in the hands of an accomplished surgeon. Our staff has the training, experience, and skill you want from a surgeon responsible for fixing your foot or ankle.

Why Might You Undergo Foot or Ankle Surgery

There are several reasons we might recommend surgery to address your foot or ankle problem. In some instances, conservative care is not working. At other times, the condition is progressive—such as with bunions and hammertoes—and will continue to worsen if left unaddressed. There are also cases where surgery is used to restore normal foot function and/or relieve severe pain.

Certain medical issues are more likely to require surgical intervention than others, including arthritis, injury resulting from physical trauma, and compound fractures. That said, there are times when conservative care for arthritis is effective at relieving symptoms, and some trauma injuries can be resolved without surgery (it is just more likely that they will need surgical procedures).

With regard to ankle injuries, a major consideration in our decision whether or not to recommend operating on an ankle is the stability of your ankle joint. If the result of your existing condition is an unstable joint, then surgery is likely going to be the recommended course of action. Your mobility is the primary concern in this situation, and trying to save or re-establish it becomes paramount.

In the instance of a compound fracture in either the foot or ankle, surgery becomes an obvious necessity. In part, there are high odds of infection—caused by breakage in the skin—and immediate operation is needed in order to prevent contamination. But there is also an urgent need to stabilize the fracture as quickly as possible.

Some of the key diagnostic tools we use to determine whether or not to recommend surgery include MRI (magnetic resonance imagining) scans, CT (computed tomography) scans, and X-rays.

Types of Surgery

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgery that utilizes a fiber optic camera to allow your surgeon to see what is happening inside the body on an external monitor. The advantage to this kind of procedure is that only small incisions are required. This eliminates most of the difficulties (potential infection and patient pain) encountered with large cuts.

ORIF (open reduction and internal fixation) is more invasive than arthroscopy, but may be required to set broken bones back into place. This is done in a traditional procedure, where an incision is made to see the entire fractured bone. The fragments are placed back into position and held there with metal plates and/or screws.

Preparing for Foot or Ankle Surgery

Some of the considerations you need to keep in mind when preparing for lower limb surgery include:

  • Schedule time off from work. You will need time both for your procedure and the recovery process, so make sure you let your employer know. As we discuss the surgery with you, we will let you know what you should expect timewise.
  • Follow instructions about when to eat (or not) before surgery. This will be dictated by whether or not anesthesia is going to be used, and what kind is administered.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing. Comfortable clothing isn’t always the most stylish, but you will be glad you opted for loosing-fitting clothes when you put them back on over the surgical site.
  • Arrange a ride home. Both anesthesia and the affected foot itself are reasons you will likely need someone else to drive you to and from the procedure.
  • Make plans for child care. If you have children living at home, especially younger ones, you may need to ask your spouse or family members to help with child care. You will need to spend time resting during recovery and your mobility may be limited, so chasing kids around is out of the question.

Postoperative Care and Recovery

The actual procedure is, of course, an important part of the whole process, but you do not want to underestimate the importance of postsurgical care. This stage is essential for your safety and optimal recovery. We will provide specific postoperative instructions, and your ability to heal correctly will depend on you following them, but some general considerations include:

  • Rest – Surgery is a big deal. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t take as many measures as possible to avoid using it as a treatment option. Since it is, though, you will need to give your body the chance to perform its natural healing processes after the procedure.
  • Medication – Depending on your procedure and situation, we will likely recommend or prescribe some form of medication for you. The pain relieving properties of medicine certainly plays a role, but the anti-inflammatory ones can be immensely helpful in assisting with your recovery.
  • Restricted movement – In time, the amount and range of movement will increase, but we may recommend you limit how much you move the affected area for at least a certain period of time.
  • Assistive devices – Braces, casts, or other devices may be prescribed to help you keep weight off of the repaired foot, but still allow you to be mobile.
  • Physical therapy – As you recover, it will be necessary for you to gradually ease into physical movement. To that end, physical therapy is a key part of postsurgical care. Stretching and strengthening exercises are essential for making sure your movement is as natural as possible.
  • Hygienic practices – The potential for infection is one of the risks of surgery. This risk doesn’t end once the procedure is completed, though. It is essential that you keep any insertion points clean to reduce your infection risk.
  • Follow-up appointments – Don’t worry—you’re not on your own after the surgery! We will schedule follow-up appointments to monitor your progress and ensure everything is mending like it should.


Electing to have surgery is not an easy decision. Our goal is to make it easier on you by consistently providing first-class care and treatment and earning the positive referrals our patients give. When you need a surgical procedure to put your foot or ankle pain behind you, McDowell Orthopedics & Podiatry Group is here to help. Call our Carmichael, CA office at (916) 961-3434 for more information or to schedule your appointment today.

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