Abstract Within a living body, cells are constantly exposed to various mechanical constraints. As a matter of fact, these mechanical factors play a vital role in the regulation of the cell state. It is widely recognized that cells can sense, react and adapt themselves to mechanical stimulation. However, investigations aimed at studying cell mechanics directly in vivo remain elusive. An alternative solution is to study cell mechanics via in vitro experiments. Nevertheless, this requires implementing means to mimic the stresses that cells naturally undergo in their physiological environment. In this paper, we survey various microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) dedicated to the mechanical stimulation of living cells. In particular, we focus on their actuation means as well as their inherent capabilities to stimulate a given amount of cells. Thereby, we report actuation means dependent upon the fact they can provide stimulation to a single cell, target a maximum of a hundred cells, or deal with thousands of cells. Intrinsic performances, strengths and limitations are summarized for each type of actuator. We also discuss recent achievements as well as future challenges of cell mechanostimulation.