Perioperative myocardial infarction is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality after major non-cardiac surgery. Pharmacological agents such as beta-blockers may reduce the risk but are associated with side-effects and may be contra-indicated in some patients. Basic scientific experiments and preliminary clinical trials in humans suggest that remote ischaemic preconditioning (RIPC), where brief ischaemia in one tissue confers resistance to subsequent sustained ischaemic insults in another tissue, may provide a simple, cost-effective means of reducing the risk of perioperative myocardial ischaemia. The Medline and Pubmed databases were searched for articles concerning RIPC. The mechanism may be humoral, neural, or a combination of both, and involves adenosine, opioids, bradykinins, protein kinase C, and K-ATP channels, although the precise end-effector remains unclear. Small randomized trials in humans undergoing major surgery suggest that RIPC induced by brief lower limb ischaemia significantly reduces myocardial injury. It may also reduce other ischaemic complications of surgery and anaesthesia. Small studies provide some evidence that RIPC could reduce myocardial injury and other ischaemic complications of surgery. However, large-scale clinical trials to assess the effect of RIPC on mortality and morbidity are required before RIPC can be recommended for routine clinical use.