Abstract Use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for chronic conditions has increased in recent years. CAM is immensely popular for musculoskeletal conditions and patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) frequently try CAM. This review summarises the trial data for or against CAM as a symptomatic treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Collectively the evidence demonstrates that some CAM modalities show significant promise, e.g. acupuncture, diets, herbal medicine, homoeopathy, massage, supplements. However, for the great majority of these therapies no evidencebased (clinical randomised trials) results are available. CAM is usually used in addition to, and not as a substitute for conventional therapies. The motivation of patients to try CAM is complex; the willingness to take control of their healthcare, the desire to try everything available, the mass-media pressure and the erroneous notion that CAM is without risks. In fact, none of these treatments is totally devoid of risks. While the use of complementary and alternative modalities for the treatment of RA continues to increase, rigorous clinical trials examining their efficacy are needed before definitive recommendations regarding the application of these modalities can be made.