The place of indwelling urinary catheterisation following epidural anaesthesia to prevent acute retention of urine after hip and knee arthroplasty is controversial. Even with the use of aseptic techniques and closed sterile drainage, bacteriuria has been reported in 10-27% of catheterised patients. A prospective trial was carried out in 68 consecutive patients undergoing knee or hip joint arthroplasty with epidural anaesthesia to investigate the perioperative complications of short term urinary catheterisation. Following establishment of combined epidural and general anaesthesia, all patients underwent urinary catheterisation under aseptic technique by a member of the surgical team. Prophylactic antibiotics were given prior to insertion and continued for 24-48h postoperatively to minimise the risk of prosthetic infection. The mean indwelling urinary catheter (IDC) period was 3.6 days (range 2-14). There were three (4.4%) urinary tract infections (UTIs) all of which resolved with appropriate antibiotics. Two were detected upon removal of the urinary catheter and one was detected on the seventh postoperative day when symptoms were detected. No patient required recatheterisation. There was no other infective morbidity or wound infection. Our findings suggest the use of IDC for short periods combined with prophylactic antibiotics is safe in the perioperative phase of joint arthroplasty.