Progress in rheumatology has been remarkable in the past 70 years, favourably affecting quality of life for people with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. Therapeutics have advanced considerably in this period, from early developments such as the introduction of glucocorticoid therapy to the general use of methotrexate and other disease-modifying agents, followed by the advent of biologic DMARDs and, most recently, small-molecule signalling inhibitors. Novel strategies for the use of such agents have also transformed outcomes, as have multidisciplinary nonpharmacological approaches to the management of rheumatic musculoskeletal disease including surgery, physical therapy and occupational therapy. Breakthroughs in our understanding of disease pathogenesis, diagnostics and the use of ‘big data’ continue to drive the field forward. Critically, the patient is now at the centre of management strategies as well as the future research agenda.