Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) Surgery at Boston Children's

LIke ThisLIke ThisLIke ThisLIke ThisLIke This

Contact the Department of Neurosurgery

  • 617-355-6008

Selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) is an operation for leg spasticity, a condition in which muscles are unusually rigid and limit leg movement.

A one-time spinal operation at Boston Children's Hospital can help some children with cerebral palsy and spastic diplegia walk independently. Learn more through the eyes of a family whose 4-year-old underwent the procedure.

The operation is an excellent option for some children with spastic cerebral palsy. After SDR, many children can transition from walkers to crutches or canes.

Why Boston Children's for Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy?

  • Boston Children’s is among a handful of centers using minimally invasive, “single-level” SDR. Patients recover faster after minimally invasive procedures.
  • Boston Children’s pediatric neurosurgeon and Shenandoah Robinson, MD (right), is an expert in SDR and has performed over 150 of the procedures.
  • Boston Children’s has a team of specialized pediatricians skilled in complex care for children who have other medical complications related to their cerebral palsy, including:

physical therapists
occupational therapists
orthopedic surgeons
anesthesia and pain management specialists

For more information on SDR, please call 617-355-6008.

Frequently Asked Questions

Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy Procedure
During SDR, a small incision is made in the back.

Sensory nerves bring sensations from the legs to the spinal cord. During the SDR surgery, doctors stimulate nerve rootlets, looking for abnormal muscle responses. The most abnormal nerve roots are cut.


What type of children typically receive selective dorsal rhizotomy?

For muscles to work properly, they need to both contract and relax. But in children with spasticity, the signal to relax a muscle doesn’t get through. Instead, the sensory nerves keep telling the muscles they need to be tighter, so they contract even when they don’t need to. This results in the stiff gait and “scissoring” motion often seen in children with cerebral palsy.

What happens during SDR?

SDR works by cutting the nerves that aren’t functioning properly.

During the surgery, Shenandoah Robinson, MD makes a small, inch-long incision in the lower back and removes a small section of bone to expose the nerve groups. A monitor attached to the patient’s legs measures electrical activity. Using a microscope, Dr. Shenandoah Robinson carefully stimulates each cluster of nerves and closely monitors muscle responses on a machine so that the correct nerves are targeted. The nerves that respond abnormally are cut.

How long does the procedure take?

SDR is performed under general anesthesia and normally takes about 4 hours. The surgery requires a stay in the hospital of 4 to 5 days.

How can I learn more about selective dorsal rhizotomy at Boston Children's?

For more information on SDR, please call 617-355-6008.



Hear about Will’s experience with SDR at Boston Children's

Five-year-old Will DeMauvise had never been stopped by his cerebral palsy—in family videos, he swims, throws a baseball and drives a toy car. But Will walked with a “scissoring” motion, crossing one leg tightly over the other, and needed a walker. Injections of Botox® and phenol into Will’s legs helped, but the procedure required he go under anesthesia each time and the effect was short-lived.

When Will’s family learned about a one-time spinal operation called selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) at Boston Children’s, they brought him in to see Shenandoah Robinson, MD. He was at an age when SDR could help his muscles and limbs develop more normally. He was also determined and able to undertake the rigorous physical therapy that would be part of the follow-up treatment. Dr. Shenandoah Robinson quickly approved him for SDR.

After the surgery, Will was bearing weight on his legs within a week. He could climb stairs, and he didn’t scissor his legs anymore.

Like many children with cerebral palsy, Will experienced some weakness in his core after surgery. But intensive physical and occupational therapy, along with swimming and horseback riding, has started to turn that around. “Will realized quickly that he could do more things with his legs. He could see the progress and kept working harder and harder,” says Dr. Robinson.

Will entered kindergarten last fall with a long road ahead, but full of determination.

For more information on SDR, please call 617-355-6008.

The future of pediatrics will be forged by thinking differently, breaking paradigms and joining together in a shared vision of tackling the toughest challenges before us.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944