BACKGROUND Decompressive craniectomy in the treatment of posttraumatic brain swelling is not generally accepted. Until now the efficacy of operative decompressive craniectomy in posttraumatic brain swelling of children appeared more promising. However, the criteria for such procedures remain unclearly defined. METHODS We present two children who had repeated decompressive craniectomy following head injury, in order to control intracranial pressure (ICP) sufficiently. Our indications for performing a decompressive craniectomy in the presence of conservatively uncontrollable raised ICP are: (1) Patient is between the ages of 3 and 35 years. (2) An initial Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) ranging between 4 and 8. (3) Three criteria have to be fulfilled at the same time: The cerebral perfusion pressure (CPP) has to drop to values of less than 60 mm Hg. It is impossible to control the ICP values (up to 45 mm Hg) conservatively. The diastolic velocity of the transcranial doppler sonography (TCD) has to decrease until only a systolic flow pattern is obtained. (4) No other mass lesion should be detected on cranial computed tomography (CCT) that could account for the rise in pressure. In both cases we performed bifrontal decompressive craniectomies. RESULTS Both patients survived. Seven months after the accident, patient No. 1 was oriented and could walk on her own with a mild right-side hemiparesis. Patient No. 2 could attend school 12 months postinjury. Both patients developed hygromas after the craniectomy. A shunt operation, however, was not necessary. CONCLUSIONS ICP monitoring, together with CCT examination, simultaneous recording of TCD, and systemic parameters, will reveal a patient at risk at a time when impending damage due to uncontrollable ICP may still be prevented. The simultaneous assessment of cerebral blood flow by transcranial doppler (TCD), in this situation, proves most valuable. It improves the guidelines of patient selection for decompressive craniectomy, in the presence of conservatively uncontrollable ICP.