The internal anal sphincter is currently regarded as a significant contributor to continence function. Four physiological and morphological aspects of the internal anal sphincter are presented as part of the current evidence base for its preservation in anal surgery. 1) The incidence of continence disturbance following deliberate internal anal sphincterotomy is underestimated, although there is presently no prospective imaging or physiologic data supporting the selective use of sphincter-sparing surgical alternatives. 2) Given that the resting pressure is a measure of internal anal sphincter function, its physiologic representation (the rectoanal inhibitory reflex) shows inherent differences between incontinent and normal cohorts which suggest that internal anal sphincter properties act as a continence defense mechanism. 3) Anatomical differences in distal external anal sphincter overlap at the point of internal anal sphincter termination may preclude internal anal sphincter division in some patients where the distal anal canal will be unsupported following deliberate internal anal sphincterotomy. 4) internal anal sphincter-preservation techniques in fistula surgery may potentially safeguard postoperative function. Prospective, randomized trials using preoperative sphincter imaging and physiologic parameters of the rectoanal inhibitory reflex are required to shape surgical decision making in minor anorectal surgery in an effort to define whether alternatives to internal anal sphincter division lead to better functional outcomes.