Measuring the vertical displacement of the center of mass (COM) of the body during walking may provide useful information about the energy required to walk. Four methods of varying complexity to estimate the vertical displacement of the COM were compared in 25 able-bodied, female subjects. The first method, the sacral marker method, utilized an external marker on the sacrum as representative of the COM of the body. The second method, the reconstructed pelvis method, which also utilized a marker over the sacrum, theoretically controlled for pelvic tilt motion. The third method, the segmental analysis method, involved measuring motion of the trunk and limb segments. The fourth method, the forceplate method, involved estimating the COM displacement from ground reaction force measurements. A two-tailed paired t-test within an ANOVA showed no statistically significant difference between the sacral marker and the reconstructed pelvis methods (p = 0.839). There was also no statistically significant difference between the sacral marker and the segmental analysis method (p = 0.119) or between the reconstructed pelvis and the segmental analysis method (p = 0.174). It follows that the first method, which is the most simple, can provide essentially the same estimate of the vertical displacement of the COM as the more complicated second and third measures. The forceplate method produced data with a lower range and a different distribution than the other three methods. There was a statistically significant difference between the forceplate method and the other methods (p < 0.01 for each of the three comparisons). The forceplate method provides information that is statistically significantly different from the results of the kinematic methods. The magnitude of the difference is large enough to be physiologically significant and further studies to define the sources of the differences and the relative validity of the two approaches are warranted.

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