Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy for Cerebral Palsy: What You Need to Know

Selective dorsal rhizotomay helps improve communication between the spine and muscle.

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When less invasive treatments for cerebral palsy (CP), such as braces and oral medications, aren’t providing sufficient relief, your doctor may consider neurosurgery.

Selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) is one option that can lead to improved movement for many children who have spasticity with dystonia (increased muscle stiffness and spasms).

Here’s what Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon Shenandoah “Dody” Robinson, M.D ., wants you to know about this treatment option.

What is selective dorsal rhizotomy?

Selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) is a complex procedure. Johns Hopkins neurosurgeons take care to make the procedure as minimally invasive as possible.

Our surgeons remove only one layer of bone (vs. multiple) in the back of your child’s spine. This helps children experience less pain and recover more quickly. This is especially important for children with cerebral palsy, who can lose ground when they stop physical therapy.

We then meticulously test (and cut) certain nerve “rootlets” in the spinal cord to help improve muscle symptoms.

Think about it this way: When your cell phone gets bad reception, it’s harder to hear what someone is saying. Selective dorsal rhizotomy helps “improve reception” by clearing the communication lines between the body’s spinal cord nerves and muscles, which helps decrease muscle tone and stiffness. And, while every surgery comes with risk, the risks with SDR surgery are notably low.