Ignacio V. Ponseti, MD
Courtesy of the University of Iowa / Kirk Murray


Published 12/1/2009
Jennie McKee

The man behind the clubfoot treatment revolution

Ignacio V. Ponseti, MD, pioneered nonsurgical clubfoot treatment

Ignacio V. Ponseti, MD, who passed away on Oct. 18, 2009, at the age of 95, left an indelible mark on the world of orthopaedics during a career that spanned 7 decades.

After arriving at the University of Iowa in 1941, Dr. Ponseti found that many young patients who underwent surgery for clubfoot experienced foot stiffness, pain, arthritis, and limited mobility as adults. As a result, he developed a nonsurgical treatment method for clubfoot that stretches the ligaments and molds the foot into shape using manual manipulation, casts, and braces. Although he published many studies on his treatment, the Ponseti Method wasn’t widely adopted until the late 1990s.

Dr. Ponseti treated patients—many of whom traveled long distances to see him—at the university’s Ponseti Clubfoot Treatment Center and taught pediatric orthopaedic surgeons and other health care providers from around the world how to perform the inexpensive, effective treatment.

“Dr. Ponseti spent a lot of time with parents explaining the deformity,” said Stuart L. Weinstein, MD, AAOS past president. “Their despair and tremendous anxiety would turn to love and gratitude—and an almost disbelief at the success of the treatment—after the first cast was removed.”

An avid researcher, Dr. Ponseti helped establish the orthopaedic pathology program at the University of Iowa with Ernst Freund, MD, and developed one of the first connective tissue biology and biochemistry laboratories.

“His passion for trying to discover the causes of disorders such as scoliosis, clubfoot, and hip dysplasia was contagious,” said Joseph A. Buckwalter, MS, MD, professor and head of orthopaedic surgery at Iowa.

“He started publishing very important, breakthrough basic science studies in the early 1950s,” said Dr. Buckwalter. “His discoveries of how disrupting collagen cross-linking could lead to deformities helped arouse the interest of other researchers in connective tissue biology and biochemistry.”

“Dr. Ponseti was a truly great scientist and a truly great clinician,” said John J. Callaghan, MD, AAOS first vice president. “The Ponseti Method continues to gain momentum around the world. We hope that through the orthopaedists here at the University of Iowa—Dr. Weinstein as well as José A. Morcuende, MD, PhD, and Frederick R. Dietz, MD—his work will continue,” he said.