Thromboprophylaxis remains a controversial subject. A vast amount of epidemiological and trial data about venous thromboembolism has been published over the past 40 years. These data have been distilled and synthesised into guidelines designed to help the practitioner translate this extensive research into 'evidence-based' advice. Guidelines should, in theory, benefit patient care by ensuring that every patient routinely receives the best prophylaxis; without guidelines, it is argued, patients may fail to receive treatment or be exposed to protocols which are ineffective, dangerous or expensive. Guidelines, however, have not been welcomed or applied universally. In the United States, orthopaedic surgeons have published their concerns about the thromboprophylaxis guidelines prepared by the American College of Chest Physicians. In Britain, controversy persists with many surgeons unconvinced of the risk/benefit, cost/benefit or practicality of thromboprophylaxis. The extended remit of the recent National Institute of Clinical Excellence thromboprophylaxis guidelines has been challenged. The reasons for this disquiet are addressed in this paper and particular emphasis is placed on how clinically-acceptable guidelines could be developed and applied.