Ankle Injuries: A Q&A with Scripps Orthopedic Surgeon Jacob Bronstein

As more people return to their active lifestyles, especially as public health restrictions related to the pandemic recede, the risks of foot and ankle injuries increase. In a Q&A, Scripps orthopedic surgeon Jacob Bronstein, who lives in Encinitas, discusses his first year with Scripps, ankle surgeries, and other aspects of being an orthopedic surgeon. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Dr.  Jacob Brownstein

Dr. Jacob Brownstein

(Courtesy of Scripps)

Q: What is your background and what brought you to Scripps?

Brownstein: I was on the east coast my whole life before moving here. I studied undergraduate at the University of Georgia, continued my medical training at Georgetown University in DC, and later completed my residency in Charleston, South Carolina. I stayed there for five years. And I recently did my Fellowship in Foot and Ankle Surgery at Duke University, which is really a place for Foot and Ankle surgery. Basically, how I ended up here is that my current partner reached out to the Duke faculty, where I was doing my last year internship, to see if I was interested in this position. It sparked my interest. I know Scripps has an amazing reputation when it comes to orthopedic surgery. I took this opportunity, came out here and was blown away by the opportunity.

Q: What are some common infections or other conditions you see?

Brownstein: I see a variety of conditions. I treat a lot of patients with traumatic injuries, like ankle fractures, especially with an active population like we have here in San Diego. On the other end of the spectrum, I see a lot of people who suffer from degenerative conditions, such as osteoarthritis of the ankle. Therefore, we have been able to offer different treatment options to those different types of population with different types of fears.

What we see now are people who have been fairly sedentary and are going back to their previous activity level or maybe trying new things that they haven’t tried before, and they’re not really taking the proper precautions before getting into these activities. So I think it’s important for people to relax in whatever activities they’re trying to get into. And then they need to put on the right shoes, use the right equipment, and stretch beforehand, because you see a lot of people jumping on their heads. It’s great that they’re getting out there, but at the same time we’re seeing a lot of injuries.

Q: Your specialty is total ankle joint replacement?

Brownstein: The main reason I was brought here was a complete ankle replacement. It is not commonly provided on the West Coast. It’s more than that on the east coast. Scripps is known as a center of excellence for joint replacement surgery. This is mostly a hip and knee replacement so what they want me to bring to Scripps is now a full ankle replacement to make this part of the program.

Q: Why do people usually need a complete ankle replacement, and what do they have to undergo?

Brownstein: The reason people need joint replacement in general, whether it’s the knee, hip or ankle, is because they suffer from advanced arthritis. So they’ve basically eroded the cartilage that lines the joints, and as a result they experience pain and loss of function. So for ankle arthritis, unlike hip and knee osteoarthritis, which is usually a wear and tear phenomenon, most people with ankle arthritis have had some kind of injury, whether they had a repetitive ankle sprain or a bad ankle fracture. In the past they continued to develop arthritis. So we offer these patients as much non-surgical treatment as possible to allow them to live their lifestyle. When they’re really affected in terms of their quality of life, that’s when we start talking about the different options, including ankle replacement.

Q: When did you learn that you wanted to become an orthopedic surgeon?

Brownstein: It was something I was interested in as early as my teenage years. My mom was a physical therapist and a few of our good friends are orthopedic surgeons. So I got to know him early on and he met many of my interests. Over time, I’ve discovered that it really works for me. I just enjoy having the ability to help people get back to the job level they’re looking for. We have really good results, which is not always the case in medicine. We have the opportunity to fix their problem and put their problem behind their back, which is really satisfying.

Q: Is there anything in particular you want Northern County residents to know about orthopedic care at Scripps?

Brownstein: Part of them getting me aboard Scripps is that they were opening a new facility for Scripps Medical Center at Jefferson in Oceanside, and so it’s really the largest of our clinics they’ve opened in North County. We are able to offer not only orthopedics, but there is also a family clinic, there are cardiologists, oncologists, and we have a fully functional surgical center where I do all outpatient surgeries. Hopefully we’ll be able to get that out there and make all the people in North County realize that they don’t have to travel to the right San Diego to get first-class care.

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