Object: Selective dorsal rhizotomy is a neurosurgical procedure performed for the relief of spasticity in children with cerebral palsy, but its long-term functional efficacy is still unknown. The authors sought to address this issue by means of an objective, prospective study in which quantitative gait analysis was used.
Methods: Eleven children with spastic diplegia (mean age at initial surgery 7.8 years) were evaluated preoperatively in 1985 and then at 1, 3, and at least 10 years after surgery. For comparison, 12 age-matched healthy individuals were also studied. Retroreflective targets were placed over the hip, knee, and ankle joints, and each individual's gait was videotaped. The video data were subsequently entered into a computer for extraction and analysis of the gait parameters. An analysis of variance yielded a significant time effect (p < 0.05), and post hoc comparisons revealed differences before and after surgery and with respect to the healthy volunteers. The knee and hip ranges of motion (59 degrees and 44 degrees, respectively, for healthy volunteers) were significantly restricted in children with spastic diplegia prior to surgery (41 degrees and 41 degrees, respectively), but were within normal limits after 10 years (52 degrees and 45 degrees, respectively). The knee and hip midrange values (31 degrees and 3 degrees, respectively, for healthy volunteers), indicative of posture, were significantly elevated preoperatively (42 degrees and 15 degrees) and increased sharply at 1 year (56 degrees and 18 degrees), but by 10 years they had decreased to within normal limits (36 degrees and 9 degrees). Step length and velocity improved postoperatively but were not within the normal range after 10 years. Ten years after surgery these patients not only had increased ranges of motion, but also used that movement at approximately a normal midrange point.
Conclusions: Selective dorsal rhizotomy is an effective method for alleviating spasticity. Furthermore, the authors provide evidence to show that lasting functional benefits, as measured by improved gait, can also be obtained.