We have reviewed 185 articles published since 1966 to assess the scientific evidence for methods of treatment for lateral epicondylitis of the elbow. Of the 185 articles, 78 discussed treatment, but since the natural history of the syndrome is uncertain we considered only those series with concurrent control groups. Only 18 of these were randomised and controlled studies. We then graded these papers for scientific validity, using the methods of Chalmers et al (1981). The mean score of the 18 articles was only 33%, with a range from 6% to 73%. A minimum of 70% is required for a valid clinical trial, and we therefore concluded that there was insufficient scientific evidence to support any of the current methods of treatment. There were too many methodological differences to allow a quantitative meta-analysis, but our qualitative review established the importance of the natural evolution of the syndrome and of the placebo effect of all treatments. Properly designed, controlled trials are needed.