Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease characterized by synovial hyperplasia and progressive joint destruction. Rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts (RASFs) are leading cells in joint erosion and contribute actively to inflammation. RASFs show an activated phenotype that is independent of the inflammatory environment and requires the combination of several factors. Although new aspects regarding RASF activation via matrix degradation products, epigenetic modifications, inflammatory factors, Toll-like receptor (TLR) activation and others have recently been uncovered, the primary pathophysiological processes in early arthritis leading to permanent activation are mostly unknown. Here, we review new findings regarding RASF activation and their altered behavior that contribute to matrix destruction and inflammation as well as their potential to spread RA.