The international consensus on treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) involves early initiation of disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) for which a reliable identification of early disease is mandatory. Conventional radiography of the joints is considered the standard method for detecting and quantifying joint damage in RA. However, radiographs only show late disease manifestations as joint space narrowing and bone erosions, whereas it cannot detect synovitis and bone marrow oedema, i.e., inflammation in the synovium or the bone, which may be visualized by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) months to years before erosions develop. Furthermore, MRI allows earlier visualization of bone erosions than radiography. In order to allow early treatment initiation and optimal guidance of the therapeutic strategy, there is a need for methods which are capable of early detection of inflammatory joint changes. In this review, we will discuss available data, advantages, limitations and potential future of MRI in RA.