Ortema’s specialty braces serving hockey players in Europe, North America

By Chapin Landvogt
Evgeny Kuznetsov - Washington Capitals

Photo: Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov saw his game go to another level in the 2015-16 season as he posted 20 goals and 77 points in 82 games for the Capitals (courtesy of Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)



When it comes to the sport of ice hockey, there is hardly an athlete in the professional game who has survived a career free of serious injury. Amongst the most common, sometimes even career-threatening, injuries are those to shoulders and ACL tears.

If not diagnosed and handled properly, they can end a career. In many cases, even successful surgery and a thorough rehab just aren’t enough to keep the injury from reoccurring again at a later date due to the nature of the sport.

If you have any doubts about this, look no further than Pavel Bure, once amongst the fastest and most prolific players in the game. A number of ACL tears in both legs ultimately brought his career to a premature conclusion. At the time, there was simply no customized solution to allow him to maintain his incredible speed while fully protecting him from suffering another such injury to his knees.

For hockey players, the risk of suffering particularly that type of ACL tear is extremely high. The intensity of the injury, which in the not so distant past used to be insufficiently considered as little as a knee strain, can now be thoroughly diagnosed and operatively replaced by modern procedures. Without the anterior cruciate ligament, a knee joint will likely wear down quickly and considerably, never really gaining that natural stability that we are generally born with. For pro hockey players, this can be a career-shortening death knell that not only leaves a player far behind 100% while playing, but can also end his career altogether sooner rather than later. And this is for those who are receiving the best treatment from the organizations that also pay their checks. The situation is even more difficult for amateur players.

Most commonly, though, playing hockey without an ACL will lead to the quick tearing, ripping, and erosion of the meniscus and the beginning of arthritis. But, whether no operative stabilization is possible or an operation is thoroughly successful, the knee joint can be stabilized and then further protected by ortheses, better known as braces. And you’d probably be mighty surprised to find out just how many NHL and other professional players can’t hit the ice without a brace.

This is where the company Ortema has arrived on the scene with a device that is second to none on the market. In fact, there may not be another such device anywhere on the market.

“There is no such concept like the one we have here in our little German town of Markgroningen. We have everything under one roof and there’s no such equivalent or identical all-in-one solution, for example, in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, or France,” explains Ortema’s CEO Hartmut Semsch. “We haven’t even encountered it in the USA, where there are of course bigger companies that produce far more products, but no one is doing the customized, individual brace that we’ve come to specialize in.”

For the company of Ortema, which can and does produce athletic braces for athletes in a variety of sports, the relationship to hockey has become one of precision and specialized expertise.

“The Bietigheim-Bissingen Steelers in Germany’s DEL2, the second highest professional league in Germany, and the current champion, are just around the corner and this has led to a certain affinity for the sport and its orthopedic needs,” related Semsch. “When injured, the athletes have visited the medical facilities here on site and finding long-term solutions for them, particularly with respect to knee and shoulder injuries, became one of our greatest medical concerns. Our reputation in this field eventually grew and some of the nation’s best and most internationally known players such as Marco Sturm, Dennis Seidenberg, Philipp Grubauer and Marcel Goc have become patients of ours for their serious injuries in these fields.”

Now, you wouldn’t suspect it when driving through it, but the old central German town of Markgroningen, not far from Stuttgart in the province of Baden-Wurttemberg, is home to this state-of-the-art company that, by hand, produces the most need-specific forms of sports braces and orthotics you will find anywhere on the planet. In a process unique to the industry, an athlete can receive a custom-made, fully individual brace that takes the special needs of the particular body part into full consideration for full-time use within a 36-hour period, including everything from measurement and casting to walking out the door with their new product.

“We have a very special constellation here. All in and on one complex, we have a medical clinic and hospital that features specialist for knees, backs, shoulders, hands, feet, etc. who not only diagnose, but also consult and operate,” Semsch said of the operations at Ortema. “Right on site, they are accompanied by top-flight physiotherapists who specialize in the rehabilitation of any and all injuries – in both a pre- and post-operative capacity. Then we have the medical technicians who engineer, design, and build all of the equipment and orthotics customized for each individual patient,” declares Semsch in explaining how Ortema has an all-inclusive package for the treatment of injuries that no site anywhere has come to emulate with such proficiency.

“Take a knee injury for example. Our concept includes that the player comes to us and we begin our casting procedure to precisely copy the shape and fit of the respective leg. The player then sees the doctor and receives the respective treatment, perhaps even undergoes an operation if it’s deemed necessary – and that’s often the case. After the swelling goes down and the respective rehab is to take place, the custom-made brace is long since ready and waiting for the patient.”

Although the assortment of sports braces designed for all sorts of athletes has increased considerably since the company began work and production, a focus has been placed on the needs of ice hockey players at all levels, but particularly those playing on the world’s stage. A specialization in the construction of individually-designed knee braces for players with instable knees, often related to ACL injuries, has gained the company some notice and big name customers in the game.

This has come to attract a number of NHL and international players, particularly those hailing from Russia.

“It’s become our experience that many Russian ice hockey players, although absolute top earners, are not being optimally taken care of in a medical capacity,” Semsch explained. “We’ve experienced this for many KHL players. Even some of the nation’s top players including Evgeny Kuznetsov and Evgeni Malkin, who are of course big names in the NHL as well, have been patients of ours and wear braces that we’ve created right here in our studios. These braces have become regular parts of their equipment.”

Ortema also has a number of other renowned customers and partners from other sports including no less than top Motocross rider Ken Roczen, one of the biggest names on the planet in his sport, who wears a K-Com brace on each knee, as well as back and shoulder protection. The halls of the Ortema corridors are filled with pictures of athletes such as German soccer star Basti Schweinsteiger who have been fitted for company products.

With internationally renowned athletes from a number of sports, and NHL hockey players such as those named above as well others whose names may not be mentioned for contractual and legal reasons, there is much to be said about the direction the company is continually moving in to help players be their best and get past the many complications that come of what are often career-ending injuries.

“We’ve spent the past 15 years perfecting our concept and the system behind it,” Semsch explained. “We’ve developed new techniques and altered some of the little details so as to make the product and process as functional as possible. We’ve honed the entire procedure to best meet the needs of the athletes. This has allowed us to present the most innovative knee brace system found anywhere.”

The CEO himself was a skier and suffered an ACL tear that, for many years, meant the end of actively conducting his sport. Non-customized braces existed, but did not fit him and could not come near to being stable enough to allow him to practice his passion. It was here that the plans came into motion.

“I needed something that functions. My thighs were simply too muscular and nothing fit. There was no solution for me. I knew there had to be one. I knew that the medical center here specialized in ACL tears and operations, conducting them in the meantime at an amount almost unparalleled in Germany.”

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