The purpose of this study was to analyse the changes produced by surgically assisted rapid palatal expansion (SARPE) longitudinally on 14 patients aged between 18 and 41 years. A pre-fabricated Hyrax appliance was cemented prior to the surgical intervention, which consisted of a maxillary buccal corticotomy with pterygoid separation. Models and postero-anterior (PA) headfilms were taken before expansion (T1), at the end of expansion (T2), at the end of retention (T3) and at least 1 year post-surgery (T4). Overall expansion and relapse were measured directly on the casts. Transverse distances increased more at the first molars (8.7 mm) and premolars (8.1 and 8.3 mm) than in the canine (5.2 mm) and second molar (5.5 mm) region. Minimal relapse occurred during the retention phase. The arch width decreased more during the post-retention period, with more pronounced reduction at the teeth used as anchorage during the expansion procedure (-2.0 mm for the first premolars and -2.6 mm for the first molars). The mean total dental relapse was 28 per cent. PA radiographic analysis for angular changes showed 9.6 degrees of lateral tipping per side during expansion. One-third of this movement relapsed during the retention period (-3.3 degrees) and this trend (-6.0 degrees) continued during the post-retention phase to reach practically the original value at T1. Skeletal changes monitored on the PA headfilms were minimal with great individual variation. The mean expansion measured in the proximity of the osteotomy site was only 1.3 mm. From this amount, 0.4 mm was lost during the retention and post-retention periods. Based on these findings, it appears that maxillary skeletal expansion by SARPE is mainly a lateral rotation of the two maxillary halves with only minimal horizontal translation.