BACKGROUND: Complementary and alternative medical (CAM) therapies are commonly used by pediatric patients with chronic medical conditions. Little is known about parents' perceptions of these therapies. This study describes the views of parents of patients with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) regarding conventional and CAM therapies. METHODS: Parents of children with JIA seen at a pediatric rheumatology clinic were surveyed between June 1 and July 31, 2007. Questionnaires asked about patients' use of over 75 therapies in the past 30 days, their perceived helpfulness (0 = not helpful; 3 = very helpful), perceived side effects (0 = none; 3 = severe), and whether each therapy would be recommended to other patients with JIA (Yes, No, Not sure). RESULTS: Questionnaires were returned by 52/76 (68%) parents; patients' average age was 10.9 years and 87% were Caucasian. Medications were used by 45 (88%) patients; heat (67%) and extra rest (54%) were also commonly used. CAM therapies were used by 48 (92%), e.g., massage (54%), vitamins and other supplements (54%), avoiding foods that worsened pain (35%) and stress management techniques (33%). Among the therapies rated by 3 or more parents, those that scored 2.5 or higher on helpfulness were: biologic medications, methotrexate, naproxen, wheelchairs, orthotics, heat, vitamins C and D, music, support groups and prayer. CAM therapies had 0 median side effects and parents would recommend many of them to other families. CONCLUSION: JIA patients use diverse therapies. Parents report that many CAM therapies are helpful and would recommend them to other parents. These data can be used in counseling patients and guiding future research.