© 2014 British Society for Immunology. The idiopathic inflammatory myopathies are a heterogeneous group of disorders characterised by diffuse muscle weakness and inflammation. A common immunopathogenic mechanism is the cytokine-driven infiltration of immune cells into the muscle tissue. Recent studies have further dissected the inflammatory cell types and associated cytokines involved in the immune-mediated myopathies and other chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. In this review we outline the current knowledge of cytokine expression profiles and cellular sources in the major forms of inflammatory myopathy and detail the known mechanistic functions of these cytokines in the context of inflammatory myositis. Furthermore, we discuss how the application of this knowledge may lead to new therapeutic strategies for the treatment of the inflammatory myopathies, in particular for cases resistant to conventional forms of therapy.