We have developed a method for measuring myocardial thickening from a single ultrasonic transducer attached to the epicardium. Displacement of the underlying myocardial tissue is measured by following the phase of the echoes within a sample volume range-gated across the myocardium. The output is in the form of an analog signal. To verify the accuracy, resolution, and limitations of the system, we derived the equations relating the position of a reflector to the phase of its echo and compared the system output in vitro to a known input using a single moving target and a random distribution of scatterers, and in vivo to that of an ultrasonic transit-time dimension gauge. The results demonstrate that the 10 MHz system can accurately follow the motion of single or multiple targets with a resolution of 0.02 mm. In 25 dogs myocardial thickening measured with the displacement system compared favorably in both waveform and magnitude with thickening measured by the two-crystal transit-time method. Applications for the displacement method include: quantification of regional ventricular function in animal models of cardiovascular diseases, measurement of endocardial to epicardial differences in the deformation of regional myocardium during the cardiac cycle, and evaluation of regional cardiac function in patients during and after corrective cardiac surgery.