Surgery Overview

Selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) is the most
common nerve surgery for symptoms related to
cerebral palsy (CP). During SDR, a surgeon cuts the
skin over the lower part of the spinal cord. The surgeon then finds and cuts
the nerves in the cord that are causing muscle tightness in the legs.

What To Expect After Surgery

After surgery,
physical therapy is needed. Also, orthopedic surgery
and casts or braces may still be needed.

Nerves that are cut
during SDR do not grow back together. Sometimes not all nerves are cut, and
other surgeries may be needed to cut those that remain.

Why It Is Done

Selective dorsal rhizotomy may be done to
relieve muscle tightness and
spasticity when CP
severely affects the legs. The procedure may also improve the range of movement
in the legs.

SDR is especially useful when cerebral palsy affects
both legs but not the arms (spastic diplegia). It is not advised for people who
have permanently stiff joints (contractures), little strength in their
limbs, or problems with balance.

How Well It Works

Some children have less muscle
tightness (spasticity) and are able to move their legs more easily after SDR,
although their legs may feel weaker and somewhat numb. Sometimes spasticity
completely goes away.

This surgery may decrease the chances of
leg deformities in growing children. When muscles tighten around growing bones,
the bones may not develop normally.

SDR cuts the nerves that
cause spasticity and helps prevent the muscle from tightening again. When SDR
is done before orthopedic surgery, it may increase the success of that


In most cases, SDR does not affect other
functions of the body, such as bowel and bladder control or the ability to have
sex. In rare cases, problems such as strange sensations or loss of control over
the bladder can occur.

Surgery of any kind carries the risk of bleeding, infection, or the need for repeated surgery.

What To Think About

Complications after SDR are rare.
Children need to have physical therapy for up to 1 year after this

More study is needed to know the long-term effects
of SDR on the function and condition of the bones and joints.

Complete the surgery information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD – Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Louis Pellegrino, MD – Developmental Pediatrics

Current as ofMay 4, 2017