What is Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)? SSDI Lawyer Explains!

Posted on Thursday, May 12th, 2011 by Loyd Bourgeois    

RFCOne of the most important concepts in evaluating disability claims is Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).

The code of federal regulations describe residual functional capacity as follows:

Your residual functional capacity is the most you can still do despite your limitations.” 20 CFR 404.1545; 20 CFR 416.945.

What exactly does this mean?

Residual Functional Capacity is an evaluation of your remaining ability to do things (work) after taking into account all of the limitations your severe medical conditions cause you.

Think of it as “How much can you do & for how long?”. SSA will look at how your medical condition(s) has affected your ability to:

  • Exert yourself physically for various work-related activities (such as sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling).
  • Do manipulative and postural activities (such as reaching, handling large objects, using your fingers, feeling, stooping, balancing, climbing stairs or ladders, kneeling, crouching, crawling).
  • Tolerate certain environmental conditions (such as temperature extremes, wetness, humidity, noise, hazardous working conditions like moving machinery or heights, dust, fumes, odors, gases, poor ventilation, vibrations).
  • See, hear, and speak.
  • Maintain concentration and attention at work.
  • Understand, remember and carry out instructions.
  • Respond appropriately to supervisors, co-workers, and usual work situations.
  • Cope with changes in the work setting.

For example, let’s assume you have chronic back pain and take medications for treatment.  Your doctor has told you that the most you can lift is 20 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently.  Assume further, that as a result of the medication you take to treat your back pain, that you experience drowsiness, fatigue and should not operate heavy machinery.  You also cannot sit for longer than 1 hour at a time or stand for longer than 30 minutes before you need to rest.

Knowing these limitations, what can you do?  You can lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently.  You can sit for up to 1 hour and stand for up to 30 minutes. Can you do anything else?  Are you limited in other ways?

There are a number of other factors that should go into your RFC, but these are not always clearly explained in the medical records.  When these other factors are not clearly explained in your medical records, Social Security may find that you can perform these tasks.  Some factors that should be considered are: ability to twist, bend, stoop, reach, grasp, handle/finger, kneel, crawl, and climb.

Additionally, other non-exertional factors can play a role in establishing your RFC as well.  These factors can include things such as: ability to follow directions, maintain concentration, pace and persistence, ability to get along with co-workers, reliability (do you show up), and a host of other issues.

Your overall residual functional capacity is your remaining physical and mental ability after taking into account your physical and mental limitations.

Often times, the medical records that I review do not discuss a number of factors essential to a proper determination of your RFC.  The reason is that many of these factors are irrelevant to a doctor’s actual treatment of your medical condition.  However, they are important for Social Security Disability claims because SSA’s determination is focused on your functional ability – not your medical history.

Social Security defines RFC as sedentary, light, medium, or heavy.  If you do not meet a listing, your RFC needs to be at a certain level to qualify you for social security disability benefits.  Your RFC needs to prevent you from performing your past relevant work  and all other types of work that exist in significant numbers.  The specific RFC needed to show that you cannot perform your past relevant work or other types of work is dependent on you age, education, training, and past work history.

A thorough understanding of all of the factors that go into a RFC determination is important if you want to have the best chance of success with your SSDI claim.  As a Greater Houma SSDI attorney I can help you understand the RFC you will have to prove in order to give your disability case the best chance of success.