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The wit and wisdom of ... Merton Root

Discussion in 'Podiatry Trivia' started by Robertisaacs, Feb 14, 2011.

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    Every time I revisit Rootian biomechanics, and Clinical biomechanics Vol 2 I am surprised and annoyed. Surprised by how much some of Merton Root's quotable quotes resonate with what we think of as "modern" biomechanical thinking and annoyed at how many people, including me, had such an artificial and bastardised version of Root biomechanics presented to us.

    I have a presentation I wrote some years ago in which I picked holes in Rootian biomechanics. To my shame, much of this was based on misinformation. I've changed it a great deal now but I still blush when I think of it.

    To this end, here is a thread devoted to sayings and writings of Merton Root. It is not my intention to saint the man, there are still things I disagree with, but I think it would behoove us to redress the balance a little from the straw man Rootian biomechanics has become.

    So if you got em, post em.
  2. Worth reading for all those (and they know who they are) who think that Rootian assessment is nothing more than drawing RSCP.

    This one made me laugh out loud. It could so easily be mistaken for a critique of Root in favour of tissue stress!

    If you'd shown me this one, I'd have attributed it to Kevin or Eric as a preface to a finite element analysis or a thought experiment.

    There is another quote which was made on this forum in which He predicted the evolution and expansion of his work but I can't for the life of me find the damn thing.
  3. Mert Root was not known for his wit, but was certainly known for his wisdom. It is really too bad most of those on this forum never heard him speak since he was definitely someone who knew his stuff and made you think when he spoke.

    It is a shame that his ideas are bastardized by those who never heard him speak and think that he was somehow "frontal plane only". Mert Root wasn't perfect, but 25 years ago, he was one of the best.

    Actually, even though he didn't speak as much as Dr. Root, John Weed was, in my opinion, a less dogmatic and better speaker than Mert Root. John was quite willing to accept that he could possibly be wrong and was willing to accept new ideas more readily. Both John Weed and Ron Valmassy were my role models as a young podiatrist. Both were/are great people and great podiatrists. I was very fortunate to spend a lot of time with both of them and they both influenced me greatly.
  4. Griff

    Griff Moderator

    I wish I'd had the pleasure of hearing Dr Root speak.

    This is my favourite "Did Root really say that?" paragraph:

    Source: Functional foot orthoses: hype or help? Pacesetter, Volume II, Number I, March-April 1982, p5-12.
  5. That was one of the problems.....Dr. Root considered a functional foot orthosis to end proximal to the metatarsal heads but an accommodative orthosis to possibly extend distally to the ends of the digits. For me, they are both "functional foot orthoses", regardless of whether they have forefoot extensions or not. Why can't accommodating painful metatarsal heads with an orthosis be considered to be "resisting abnormal forces" and "promoting improve foot function"?

    Thank goodness we have moved on from those days. Things are much more physics-based now than they ever were in my student days (at least at the California School of Podiatric Medicine).

    How many podiatry schools still teach Subtalar Joint Neutral Theory as the basic core biomechanics curriculum?
  6. Griff

    Griff Moderator

    Here's my question:

    If Root et al didn't believe that foot orthoses held the foot in any position (i.e neutral) does anyone know where the birth of this type of image can be attributed to?

  7. Griff

    Griff Moderator

    In the UK my guess would be all of them. But that is just a guess based on past experience. Maybe some current students could inform us better?
  8. Mert Root would say that foot orthoses allowed the foot to function in the neutral position but that they weren't "braces", holding the foot into any one position. That is what I think he meant in the quote listed.
  9. My guess: AOL, or as they are known these days: Vasyli. It was certainly in their marketing literature that I first recall seeing such images. I think much of the bastardisation of Root here in the UK comes back to Sheldon Langer's booklet.

    P.S. As I pointed out in Portugal recently with regard to that image, note that the orthosis is shown under the left foot, while the right foot shows the badly drawn leg bisection. The inference that the orthosis straightens heel to leg alignment is all in the mind of the viewer- think about it. You don't know what the heel position of the left foot is without the orthosis, nor the position of the right heel bisection with the orthosis, yet until someone points it out... you make that connection: orthotic = straight line, no orthotic = bent line. That my friends is all in your heads. The fact that the two limbs might not even belong to the same person is another story... Marketing, in this case its quite clever, yet: "if you're in marketing.. kill yourself"- please, the world really would be a much better place without you. Go ahead.. kill yourself.

    Going to sit down with my new Hicks DVD now.
  10. Any maximally pronated foot with decent posterior tibial muscle strength can make such a photo happen....if told to do so for the sake of the photo.
  11. Griff

    Griff Moderator

    Good point re: the Vasyli pic big dog. Never even realised that all of them employ different feet for 'with and without' pics. Damn those marketing types...

    Can't remember if I've uploaded this here before or not, but here's a photo of the same foot (left) with and without an orthotic device. Magical eh? Except I know it's a fake. Cos I faked it. Another reason I seldom believe these sort of images.

    Attached Files:

  12. I always thought that it would be fun to take a photo of the same foot on and off an orthosis, but when the foot is off the orthosis, the foot would be shown standing in "neutral" and when on the orthosis, the foot would be shown standing maximally pronated.

    Proposed Photo Caption: What's Wrong With This Orthotic??

    I'm sure countless podiatrists could come up with countless hypotheticals as to why the orthosis made the foot more pronated. Good laugh......that would be.
  13. The question really is, if the foot stood in relaxed calcaneal stance position with the distal leg bisection and heel bisection both vertical, as in the marketing image, should this be healthier?

    Lets go back to forces in a straight and in a bent column again...
  14. podos

    podos Active Member

    In Portugal still teaches the theory of neutral position of SAG, not that it should study the new theories, we do, but because I find it very difficult to explain other theories to the students without mentioning Root. do you think is possible explain Tissues stress, ou equilibrium theorie without explain Root?:wacko:
  15. Iagree and thats how I setup the last undergrad course I taught. Root 1st then moving through other theories.

    we had a go around that subject here - http://www.podiatry-arena.com/podiatry-forum/showthread.php?t=32019
  16. Franklin

    Franklin Active Member

    A very interesting thread Robert!!

    I had the privilege of corresponding with Mert for a number of years via telephone, land mail and e-mail, and the whole experience was (for me) one of intellectual enrichment. His comments and statements would always be challenging and well thought out. Mert resolutely believed in his ideas and theories and I can see why some people might use the descriptor ‘dogmatic’ to depict him in this context. However, the term ‘dogmatic’ carries with it connotations of closed-mindedness, and closed-mindedness was not a trait one could attribute to Mert. I’m sure Kevin was not using it in this sense (were you Kevin? ;) :boxing:) when comparing Dr Weed and Dr Root in a speaking or lecturing context.

    Was perhaps Dr Weed more amenable to conceding a point in the lecture theatre than Dr Root?...and if so, why? This I do find interesting. As I have mentioned above, Mert believed resolutely in his theories, and this determination to stand by his theories and his belief in their value and validity may have their genesis in the introduction he wrote to ‘Normal and Abnormal Function of the Foot: Volume II’. I have emboldened the words ‘he wrote’ for a reason.

    ‘Normal and Abnormal Function of the Foot: Volume II’, published in 1977, was very much a high watermark in podiatry publishing, and it came to fruition through the concerted efforts of three goal-oriented people. When John Weed sadly passed away on 1st October 1992, Bill Orien penned an obituary for him in the A.P.M.A. News, and in that obituary, he stated the following: “Mert was the brains, I was the muscle, and John was the conscience of all he wrote.” From my many correspondences with Mert coupled with some ‘reading between the lines’, I would assume that Mert wrote the initial ‘pilot text’ of the book and this was then passed on to John Weed (probably a chapter at a time) whose job it was to edit and reference these chapters, and in addition, insert text and subtract text at his discretion. This would then go back to Mert for approval or otherwise, and any disagreements on certain points would be ironed out during this process. Bill stated that he was the “muscle”, and it was his job to set the mechanisms in place that would see the book through to its eventual publication. However, I am also sure that Bill must also have contributed to the writing process. Perhaps if Jeff is listening in, he could possibly enlighten us more fully and precisely as to the processes through which the book progressed en route towards its final publication.

    Anyway, the above paragraph has demonstrated that the writing and publication of Volume II came down to the determined efforts of a triumvirate of individuals – Mert Root, Bill Orien and John Weed. The one page introduction, Mert wrote himself. In this introduction, he makes a brief mention of the concept of ‘coherence’, and it is this concept that helped shape and inform the development of what we refer to today as the ‘Root model’ or ‘Rootian model’. As an aside, I don’t like the phrase ‘Root paradigm’ as in the context of Kuhn’s writings the Root model doesn’t fulfil the criteria of what should constitute a ‘paradigm’. :boxing:

    When Mert sadly passed away in September 2002, he had left unfinished a fourth textbook which was to be titled ‘Normal and Abnormal Morphology of the Foot’. I had been given the task of writing an introduction to the text, editing and referencing the chapters, and adding to the chapters if I so wished. Mert had expressed to me via a clutch of e-mails why he thought the concept of coherence was so important in reference to his work and in these postings, he introduced me to the terminology ‘vertical coherence’ and horizontal coherence’ (his terms). In the introduction, I explored and wrote at length about the complex concept of coherence and also the development of the ‘form follows function’ debate within anatomy - why and how this had become an axiom within the discipline of anatomy. These two areas greatly underpinned and informed Mert’s thought processes in the years (1960s and 1970s) which saw him develop his theories. Mert placed great stress on the concept of coherence in his postings to me during the time that he was writing his final book.

    I wrote this introduction almost a decade ago, and have still retained an interest in the subject matter. From reading around the subject, it would seem that (simply stated) the notion of ‘coherence’ is in some way rather like the notion of ‘beauty’ in that it resides in the eye of the beholder. People’s opinions will differ when talking about theories in regard to what theories will cohere with each other and what theories will not – their mind’s eyes will perceive the theoretical landscape differently.

    That is very clumsily stated I know, but despite my lack of descriptive prowess, I do think that Mert’s reliance on ‘coherence’ as he saw it undergirded and bolstered his resolute belief in his ideas and theories. Furthermore, if a new idea did not pass muster in ‘his’ test of coherence, then he probably gave it scant attention, and his dismissal of a competing idea may possibly have invited the reaction that he was ‘dogmatic’.......but dogmatic in the sense of being closed-minded he definitely was not!

    Jeff, if you are reading this, then please chip in and if I have in any way misrepresented Mert here, then put me right. I have huge respect for what your father achieved and anything you say in reply or rebuttal to what I have stated will be part of my continual learning process.

    I hope I have not drifted too far away from the subject matter of this thread Robert, but you spoke of the wit and wisdom of Merton Root, and as wisdom can be defined as ‘the trait of utilising knowledge and experience with common sense and insight’ (to use a definition I have just culled from the Internet), then what I have just stated could be germane to the subject matter in some way.

    It is interesting (and I may be wrong here), but all of Hicks’ papers (John, not Bill, Simon ;)) were cited in Volume II except the paper dealing with the plantar aponeurosis. I don’t think there is any mention of John Hicks’ theories on the function of the plantar aponeurosis in the text. Mert and John Weed must have known about it, but the windlass mechanism I don’t think was mentioned in the book – this is where I will probably get shot down in flames.

    Thanks also for that link Mike – there are some great postings on it – especially from Dr Spooner!

    Many regards,

    Eric Lee.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2011
  17. I heard the term "dogmatic" being used by others to describe Mert Root before I ever met the man. Many others who trained under Mert Root and who weren't considered to be "Root disciples" considered Dr. Root to be somewhat "dogmatic" or very firm and unbending in his opinions, even to the extent that few would question him openly in a public seminar for fear of being openly criticized for their questions.

    Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, I was one of the few that questioned him in his seminars. I certainly received a public tongue-lashing because of it from Dr. Root when I questioned the accuracy and repeatability of heel bisections at one of his seminars.

    Eric, I am not as polite as you are. Therefore, I would imagine that Dr. Root would never seem "dogmatic" to you since you never publicly questioned him. A few times, I experienced personally and publicly the wrath of Dr. Root when I asked, what I considered to be valid complaints about this theories and teachings. However, never once in my many questions to Dr. John Weed, did I experience this problem.

    Here is what "Wictionary" says about dogmatic:

    dogmatic (comparative more dogmatic, superlative most dogmatic)

    1.(philosophy, medicine) Adhering only to principles which are true a priori, rather than truths based on evidence or deduction.
    2.Pertaining to dogmas; doctrinal.
    3.Asserting dogmas or beliefs in a superior or arrogant way; opinionated, dictatiorial.

    Number 3 above, at times, certainly described Dr. Root on some occasions in his interactions with me.

    With all that being said, I think that Mert Root was a great man and I learned very much for him. In fact, without his work, I don't think I would have had the ability to publish the papers and books that I have for the podiatric profession. Was he "dogmatic"? Probably at times. I'm sure many may consider me dogmatic also, but I try hard not to be. In fact, for someone in Mert Root's position, where he was trying to guide a whole profession down a more scientific path, I believe he had to be very forceful and strong with his opinions and lectures in order to convey the importance of what he felt was the right path for the podiatric profession. Dogmatic is such a negative adjective. Probably "strong-willed" and "opionated" is a better adjective to describe Mert Root.

    The bottom line was that Mert Root strongly believed in what he felt was true and didn't like others, like me, who were over three decades younger than him disagreeing with him publicly in seminars. I'll probably need to wait another decade before people will start calling me "dogmatic"......can't wait.;-)
  18. Where is this book? I should like to see it published. How "unfinished" is it? I should be happy to assist in getting it finished.
  19. Franklin

    Franklin Active Member

    Hi Simon,

    If my memory serves me correctly, Mert had written either nine or ten chapters and had one more to write. The book as it stands would, I think, rest with his son Jeff, and any decision to push for completion would probably also reside with Jeff.

    Kevin, you wrote:

    <<With all that being said, I think that Mert Root was a great man and I learned very much for him. In fact, without his work, I don't think I would have had the ability to publish the papers and books that I have for the podiatric profession. Was he "dogmatic"? Probably at times. I'm sure many may consider me dogmatic also, but I try hard not to be. In fact, for someone in Mert Root's position, where he was trying to guide a whole profession down a more scientific path, I believe he had to be very forceful and strong with his opinions and lectures in order to convey the importance of what he felt was the right path for the podiatric profession. Dogmatic is such a negative adjective. Probably "strong-willed" and "opionated" is a better adjective to describe Mert Root.>>

    That was very well stated. Thanks for your perspective. I would never label you as dogmatic.......you are also far too polite. ;)

    Many regards,

    Eric Lee.
  20. Thanks, Eric. I'll tell you what I think would be great: "a complete works", with the unfinished symphony included at the end. What do you say, Jeff? Is this a worthwhile project?
  21. Griff

    Griff Moderator

    I'd buy it.
  22. Eric:

    The way I got to know Mert Root the best was through his many "Root Lab Seminars" that I was able to attend during my years as a Biomechanics Fellow and early practice years. I think he barely knew my name since I was typically the youngest podiatrist at these meetings that consisted of mostly people who used Root Orthotic Labs for their patients' orthoses. Jeff Root was always there at these meeting since he was running the lab at this point and Mert was, basically, retired.

    Since I was 35 years younger than Mert, and he was a legend within the American Podiatry scene before anyone even knew who I was or where I came from, then for someone like me (my age-28, Mert's age-63) to ask questions of Mert that questioned the validity of his measurement system caused, understandably, some frustration with Mert. But these meetings where I got to hear someone as legendary as Mert Root speak, and where I was able to comprehend the subject and ask questions that weren't too bad, certainly gave me the confidence that I could discuss biomechanics topics intelligently with "the best". In addition, with people like Don Green, (who also attended these meetings), giving me continued encouragement to challenge Dr. Root on any subjects I felt were appropriate, my confidence in my knowledge, of course, grew over time.

    As time marches on, I develop more and more respect for what Dr. Root did for podiatry, basically establishing a scientific culture for foot and lower extremity biomechanics at the California College of Podiatric Medicine that, over time, led to the training of many of us who now teach biomechanics to others. Biomechanics Fellows trained at CCPM other than myself include such names as Christopher Smith, Ronald Valmassy, Lester Jones, William Sanner, Richard Blake, Eric Fuller and Larry Huppin. This Biomechanics Fellowship, even though now no longer in existence, was established due to Mert Root's influence on CCPM, establishing a culture for educational advancement in podiatric biomechanics at, what was considered at the time, the leading biomechanics podiatric medical institution in the world.

    I am afraid, however, it will need to be one of the other countries of the world that will need to "carry the torch" of biomechanics for the rest of podiatry since biomechanics in the USA currently is on the steady decline. It seems that without any training programs now within the USA in podiatric biomechanics to train the next generation of experts in podiatric biomechanics, biomechanics is now being unmercifully replaced by the desire of the "powers that be" to train podiatrists as surgical specialists that have little regard for the healing potential of understanding the intricate biomechanics of the human foot and lower extremity.

    Mert Root and John Weed, if they were still here with us, would certainly be doing all they could to try to convince the podiatry schools otherwise of their mistake of taking this course of predominantly surgical training for podiatry students. I know I do try, but I am afraid, this is a task that will become increasingly difficult as I and my Biomechanics Fellow colleagues, advance further along in years.

    Thank God to Podiatry Arena for allowing those of us that share the desire to better understand the complexities of the human foot and lower extremity locomotor apparatus to effectively communicate with each other on a daily basis. Too bad Drs. Root and Weed weren't here along with us on this fantastic medium of electronic communication to set us all straight......
  23. Ditto

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