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Airway pressure release ventilation and biphasic positive airway pressure ventilation are being used increasingly as alternative strategies to conventional assist control ventilation for patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and acute lung injury. By permitting spontaneous breathing throughout the ventilatory cycle, these modes offer several advantages over conventional strategies to improve the pathophysiology in these patients, including gas exchange, cardiovascular function, and reducing or eliminating the need for heavy sedation and paralysis. Whether these surrogate outcomes will translate into better patient outcomes remains to be determined. The purpose of this review is to summarize the rationale behind the use of these ventilatory strategies in ARDS, the clinical experience with the use of these modes, and their future applications in trauma patients.