Information on the mechanism of gastro-oesophageal reflux in patients with reflux disease is limited largely to studies in resting recumbent subjects. Evidence exists that both posture and physical activity may influence reflux. The aim of this study was to investigate reflux mechanisms in ambulant patients with reflux oesophagitis. Concurrent ambulatory oesophageal manometry and pH monitoring were performed in 11 ambulant patients with erosive oesophagitis. Lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) pressure was monitored with a perfused sleeve sensor. Recordings were made for 90 min before and 180 min after a meal. At set times patients sat in a chair or walked. LOS pressure was < or = 2 mmHg at the time of reflux for 98% of reflux episodes. Transient LOS relaxation was the most common pattern overall and the predominant pattern in seven patients, whilst persistently absent basal LOS pressure was the most common pattern in four patients. The pattern of LOS pressure was not altered by the presence of hiatus hernia or by walking. Straining occurred at the onset of 31% of acid reflux episodes but often followed the development of an oesophageal common cavity. The occurrence of straining was not influenced by walking. In ambulant patients with reflux oesophagitis: (1) LOS pressure is almost always absent at the time of reflux, usually because of transient LOS relaxation, (2) persistently absent basal LOS pressure is an important mechanism of reflux in a few patients, (3) straining may help to induce acid reflux in a variable proportion of occasions and may in some instances be a response to gas reflux, and (4) walking does not influence the occurrence of reflux or its mechanisms.