Selective dorsal rhizotomy in children with spastic hemiparesis

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Neurological conditions including cerebral palsy, brain injury, and stroke often result in severe spasticity, which can lead to significant deformity and interfere with function. Treatments for spasticity include oral medications, intramuscular botulinum toxin type A injections, orthopedic surgeries, intrathecal baclofen pump implantation, and selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR). Selective dorsal rhizotomy, which has been well studied in children with spastic diplegia, results in significant reduction in spasticity and improved function in children. To the authors' knowledge, there are no published outcome data for SDR in patients with spastic hemiparesis. The object of this study was to examine the effects of SDR on spastic hemiparesis.


A 2-year study was undertaken including all children with spastic hemiparesis who underwent SDR at the authors' institution. The degree of spasticity, as measured by the Modified Ashworth Scale or quality of gait rated using the visual gait assessment scale, the gait parameters, and velocity were compared in patients before and after undergoing SDR.


Thirteen children (mean age 6 years 7 months) with spastic hemiparesis underwent SDR performed by the same surgeon during a 2-year period. All of the patients had a decrease in tone in the affected lower extremity after the procedure. The mean reduction in tone in 4 muscle groups (hip adductors, knee flexors, knee extensors, and ankle plantar flexors) according to the modified Ashworth scale score was 2.6 ± 1.26 (p < 0.0001). The quality of gait was assessed in 7 patients by using the visual gait assessment scale. This score improved in 6 patients and remained the same in 1. Stride length and gait velocity were measured in 4 children. Velocity increased in 3 patients and decreased in a 3-year-old child. Parents and clinicians reported an improvement in quality of gait after the procedure. Stride length increased bilaterally in 3 patients and increased on one side and decreased on the other in the other patient.


Selective dorsal rhizotomy showed efficacy in the treatment of spastic hemiparesis in children. All of the patients had decreased tone after SDR as measured by the modified Ashworth scale. The majority of patients had qualitative and quantitative improvements in gait.

Abbreviations used in this paper: MAS = modified Ashworth scale; PCMC = Primary Children's Medical Center; SDR = selective dorsal rhizotomy; VGAS = visual gait assessment scale.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Judith L. Gooch, M.D., Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Utah, 100 Mario Capecchi Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah 84132. email:

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



  • View in gallery

    Photograph showing patient positioning for the SDR procedure. The incision is limited to the area over the L-1 spinous process.

  • View in gallery

    Sagittal (left) and axial (right) plane ultrasonographic images demonstrating the conus medullaris at the L-1 level.

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    Graph showing change in tone as measured by the MAS in patients with spastic hemiparesis before (gray bars) and after (black bars) SDR. The MAS includes measurement of hip adductors, knee flexors, knee extensors, and ankle plantar flexors. The line indicates change in the MAS score.

  • View in gallery

    Graph showing change in VGAS (adapted from Physician Rating Scale3) in patients with spastic hemiparesis before (gray bars) and after (black bars) SDR. The line indicates change in VGAS.

  • View in gallery

    Graph showing change in time to walk 30 ft in patients with spastic hemiparesis before (gray bars) and after (black bars) SDR. The line indicates the change in time to walk 30 ft.



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