Mechanical ventilation is indispensable in support of patients with respiratory failure who are critically ill. However, use of this technique has adverse effects, including increased risk of pneumonia, impaired cardiac performance, and difficulties associated with sedation and paralysis. Moreover, application of pressure to the lung, whether positive or negative, can cause damage known as ventilator-associated lung injury (VALI). Despite difficulties in distinguishing the effects of mechanical ventilation from those of the underlying disorder, VALI greatly assists patients with the most severe form of lung injury, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Moreover, modification of mechanical ventilation so that VALI is kept to a minimum improves survival of patients with ARDS. Here, we outline the effects of mechanical ventilation on injured lungs and explore the underlying mechanisms.