Inflammatory joint diseases are of considerable socio-economic significance. However, mechanisms of cartilage destruction are so far only poorly understood. This review is dedicated to reactive oxygen species (ROS) like superoxide anion radicals, hydrogen peroxide, singlet oxygen, hypochlorous acid, hydroxyl radicals and nitric oxide that are generated under inflammatory conditions and also to their potential contribution to cartilage degradation. First, the relevance of rheumatic diseases and potential mechanisms of cartilage degradation are discussed in this review, followed by the description of the chemical constituents and the molecular architecture of articular cartilage as well as the different cell types that play a role in inflammation and cartilage destruction. Methods of the assessment of cartilage degeneration are also shortly discussed. In the main chapter of this review the characteristics of individual ROS, their generation under in vivo conditions as well as their reactivities with individual cartilage components are discussed. Because of the low selectivity of ROS, useful “markers” of cartilage degradation allowing the differentiation of effects induced by individual ROS are also discussed. In the last chapter current therapeutic concepts of the treatment of rheumatic diseases are reviewed. The recently developed “anti-TNF-α” therapy that is primarily directed against neutrophilic granulocytes that are powerful sources of ROS and, therefore, important mediators of joint degeneration are emphasised.