Merton L. Root: 1922–2002
Mert Root is widely considered the father of biomechanics in podiatry as his work (agree or disagree with it) did lay the groundwork for the future developments and improvements that occurred in foot orthotic therapy. He was a pioneer in introducing podiatric biomechanics to the profession with an approach that has since become known as Root Theory. Mert graduated in 1952 from the CCPM and went on to create and direct the Department of Biomechanics at the college.
He founded the Root Lab in 1974 to manufacture custom made orthotics. The lab is now run by his son, Jeff Root.
Forty-three years ago, Merton L. Root, DPM, established and became director of the first Department of Orthopedics at the California College of Chiropody. This college later became the California College of Podiatric Medicine and is now the California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt University. The Department of Orthopedics was soon renamed the Department of Biomechanics in order to reflect the relatively new field of foot and lower extremity biomechanics, a scientific discipline that had become of great interest to researchers in the post-World War II era in their efforts to design better and more functional lower extremity prostheses.
Dr. Root taught and developed many of his concepts within the Department of Biomechanics with his colleagues, including John Weed, DPM, William Orien, DPM, Christopher Smith, DPM and Tom Sgarlato, DPM. These colleagues collaborated with him to help develop new and exciting ideas on foot and lower extremity function, including the publication of four textbooks on podiatric biomechanics.
Dr. Root was responsible for many important accomplishments. These accomplishments included:
• establishing the concept of a neutral position for the subtalar joint;
• developing a classification scheme for many foot and lower extremity deformities;
• defining eight biophysical criteria for normalcy as a model of ideal foot and lower extremity structure; and
• creating and developing the modern thermoplastic foot orthosis and its casting and manufacturing techniques.
Daryl Philips wrote this in 2003 in the Journal of the American Podiatry MedicalAssociation:
On September 25, 2002, the podiatric profession lost one of its most influential members, Dr. Merton L. Root. Dr. Root came to the fore of podiatry through his intense desire to develop a better taxonomy of the various foot types. He entered the profession after a serious study of many medical specialties because he felt that podiatry offered the best opportunities for research. During his student days, he quickly became disenchanted with the subjective methods by which feet were classified and felt that there had to be a better way. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus had a major impact on his development of the idea that a foot taxonomy was possible, and he proceeded to use the osseous skeleton as the basis of such a taxonomy. After graduation in 1952, he entered private practice and pursued an active course of making observations about various foot types and the problems they demonstrated. At that time, there were no generally accepted goniometric methods, so he was left to develop and experiment with various goniometric instruments and techniques. He continued to study the literature on the functional joints of the foot. It was during these first few years of his
practice that J. H. Hicks published his first articles about the functional joints of the foot, which would have a major impact on Dr. Root’s thinking. Around 1955, he developed the concept of the subtalar joint neutral position, a totally new idea that would make it possible to establish a baseline for determining whether a foot was pronated or supinated.
Fifty years later, Dr. Root leaves behind only a handful of journal articles and three books. Yet some consider him the father of podiatric biomechanics and would argue that he has had a greater impact on the practice of podiatry than any other podiatrist in
the last 50 years. Certainly there have been countless others who have left more writings. However, Dr. Root was the formulator of an entirely new postulate that now forms the basis of a significant part of podiatric practice throughout the world. His concept of a
subtalar joint neutral position, deviation from which could be measured as a degree of flatfoot or cavus foot, was contrary to all prior teachings. A careful review of the literature shows that F. J. Cotton and R. W. Lovett put forth a similar idea in 1898; however,
their concept did not seem to attract much attention and was not referred to in the literature in the first half of the twentieth century. What Dr. Root offered, though, was not only a definition of neutral, but also a classification of foot types relative to that definition. He taught that feet were not just pronated or supinated but that there was a continuum of abnormal function in either the pronation or supination direction. He also developed various algorithms for treating the problems related to the different foot types both conservatively and surgically.
Those who met him found Dr. Root to be almost indefatigable in his defense of ideas that he considered correct. However, he had enough humility to listen to and consider the opinions of people who disagreed with him. This author personally heard Dr. Root on several occasions express a willingness to adjust his thinking as research and sound deduction proved the value of new ideas. He never intended to be the final authority; rather, he wanted others to continue and improve on what he had started. One example of pushing others to do innovative things was the help his laboratory provided to Dr. Richard Blake in developing the Blake inverted orthotic technique. It has been noted by many that he had a great ability to motivate others to try a little harder to understand the workings of the human foot. Many of those who heard his lectures and studied his writings took on that challenge: Whether they agreed or disagreed with his ideas, all became more interested in understanding.
Dr Root co-authored 3 books: Normal and Abnormal Function of the Foot (Clinical Biomechanics, Volume 1); Biomechanical Examination of the Foot (Clinical Biomechanics, Volume 1); Neutral Position Casting Techniques
Key Publications of Merton L Root:
Merton L Root: An Approach to Foot Orthopedics. Journal of the American Podiatry Association 54(2):115-118 1954 (link)
Root M. Development of the functional orthoses, Clinics in Podiatric Medicine and Surgery Vol 11, No 2, April 1994.
The wit and wisdom of … Merton Root (Podiatry Arena discussion)
Root Theory | Root Functional Orthotic Lab | Normal and Abnormal Function of the Foot (book) | Biomechanical Examination of the Foot (book) | Neutral Position Casting Techniques (Book)