Mast cells reside in the normal synovium and increase strikingly in number in rheumatoid arthritis and other joint diseases. Given the broad spectrum of activity of this lineage, it has for decades been considered probable that mast cells are involved in the pathophysiology of synovitis. Recent work in murine arthritis has substantiated this suspicion, showing that mast cells can contribute importantly to the initiation of inflammatory arthritis. However, the role of the greatly expanded population of synovial mast cells in established arthritis remains unknown. Here we review the current understanding of mast cell function in acute arthritis and consider the potentially important influence of this cell on key processes within the chronically inflamed synovium, including leukocyte recruitment and activation, fibroblast proliferation, angiogenesis, matrix remodeling, and injury to collagen and bone. We also consider recent evidence supporting an immunomodulatory or anti-inflammatory role for mast cells as well as pharmacologic approaches to the mast cell as a therapeutic target in inflammatory arthritis.