The sensitivity and specificity of nerve conduction studies (NCS's) and electromyography (EMG) for the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome CTS) were evaluated by a critical review of the literature. With a search of the medical literature in English through May 1991, 165 articles were identified and reviewed on the basis of six criteria of scientific methodology. The findings of 11 articles that met all six criteria and the results of 48 additional studies that met four or five criteria are presented. We concluded that median sensory and motor NCS's are valid and reproducible clinical laboratory studies that confirm a clinical diagnosis of CTS with a high degree of sensitivity and specificity. Clinical practice recommendations are made based on a comparison of the sensitivities of the several different median nerve conduction study (NCS) techniques.