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Our purpose was to compare methods of calculating loading rate to the first peak vertical ground reaction force during walking and provide a rationale for the selection of a loading rate algorithm in the analysis of gait in clinical and research environments. Using vertical ground reaction force data collected from 15 older adults with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis and 15 healthy controls, we: (a) calculated loading rate as the first peak vertical force divided by the time from touchdown until the first peak; (b) calculated loading rate as the slope of the least squares regression line using vertical force and time as the dependent and independent variables, respectively; (c) calculated loading rate over discrete intervals using the Central Difference method; and (d) calculated loading rate using vertical force and lime data representing 20% and 90% of the first peak vertical force. The largest loading rate, which may be of greatest clinical importance, occurred when loading rates were calculated using the fewest number of data points. The Central Difference method appeared to maximize our ability to detect differences between healthy and pathologic cohorts. Finally, there was a strong correlation between methods, suggesting that all four methods are acceptable. However, if maximizing the chances of detecting differences between groups is of primary importance, the Central Difference method appears superior.
C.M. Woodard and S.P. Messier are with the J.B. Snow Biomechanics Laboratory in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC 27109. M.K. James is with the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.