Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) permits the visualization of anatomical structures not appreciated by conventional radiographic imaging, and may assess inflammatory disease and its progression with greater sensitivity than conventional radiography. In this study of 30 patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which could be considered as a pilot study because of the relatively small number of patients, we compare MRI of the knee and the fifth metatarsophalangeal joint with clinical and radiographic findings. A parallel study of 10 healthy individuals served as a reference group. In all but one of the 30 patients, MRI revealed some kind of joint abnormality, whereas conventional radiography was normal in 14 patients. The present study thus suggests that MRI may detect inflammatory and/or destructive joint changes in patients with early RA, and that these changes may occur in the absence of clinical symptoms or signs and/or radiographic signs in the examined joint. If these data prove to be confirmed in further controlled studies, MRI may be of importance both for the assessment of prognosis and for the decision to treat in the early critical stages of RA.