Selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) is widely used to treat spasticity in children with diplegic cerebral palsy (CP) but has never been shown conclusively to improve functional outcome. The study was designed to measure changes in gross motor function in children 1 year following rhizotomy compared with a control group receiving equivalent physiotherapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) with the exception that the rhizotomy group initially underwent a 6-week postoperative in-patient therapy program. Twenty-four children (mean age 58 months) with mild to moderate CP with spastic diplegia were randomly assigned to a therapy-only control group (CG) (N=12) or rhizotomy and therapy group (RG) (N=12). The Gross Motor Function Measure (GMFM) was administered at the baseline, 6-, and 12-month assessments. Extremity tone, range of motion (ROM), biomechanics of the ankle-stretch reflex, isometric contraction, and temporal gait components were also evaluated. GMFM scores in the RG improved by 12.1 percentage points versus 4.4 percentage points in the CG (P<0.02). RG knee and ankle tone was significantly reduced (P<0.005), associated with increased passive ankle ROM (P<0.001), and decreased soleus EMG reflex activity on forced dorsiflexion (P<0.008). Foot-floor contact pattern improved in the RG compared with the CG (P<0.05). In conclusion, SDR combined with PT and OT leads to significantly greater functional motor improvement at 1 year following surgery compared with PT and OT alone. This was achieved in part through reduced knee and ankle tone, increased ankle dorsiflexion ROM, and more normal foot-floor contact during walking.