Polymer scientists, working closely with those in the device and medical fields, have made tremendous advances over the past 30 years in the use of synthetic materials in the body. In this article we will focus on properties of biodegradable polymers which make them ideally suited for orthopedic applications where a permanent implant is not desired. The materials with the greatest history of use are the poly(lactides) and poly(glycolides), and these will be covered in specific detail. The chemistry of the polymers, including synthesis and degradation, the tailoring of properties by proper synthetic controls such as copolymer composition, special requirements for processing and handling, and mechanisms of biodegradation will be covered. An overview of biocompatibility and approved devices of particular interest in orthopedics are also covered.