Polymethylmethacrylate remains one of the most enduring materials in orthopaedic surgery. It has a central role in the success of total joint replacement and is also used in newer techniques such as percutaneous vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. This article describes the current uses and limitations of polymethylmethacrylate in orthopaedic surgery. It focuses on its mechanical and chemical properties and links these to its clinical performance. The behaviour of antibiotic-loaded bone cement are discussed, together with areas of research that are now shedding light upon the behaviour of this unique biomaterial.