In this review, we analyzed clinical outcome measures used in multiple sclerosis (MS) clinical trials in which the primary goal is to slow or arrest progression of disease. In addition, we examined rating scales that quantify symptomatic complications of MS (for example, spasticity) and the current role of magnetic resonance imaging in MS treatment trials. Each proposed scale has advantages and deficiencies, and none meets all the criteria for an ideal outcome measure. The validity of trial design may be improved by using combinations of selected components of current scales as well as new instruments targeted to specific variables (such as motor strength). Symptom-specific rating scales are most appropriately used in trials of symptomatic therapeutic strategies for MS. Until serial magnetic resonance imaging changes are definitely known to predict long-term impairment and disability in patients with MS, clinical outcome measures will remain the primary means of assessing therapeutic efficacy in phase III clinical trials.