One of the most important concepts in evaluating disability claims is Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) also referred to as Residual Functionality.

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.

Your case is not about a diagnosis.

People will talk about how long they have had the diagnosis, what medications they take or have tried, and how they know someone else with the same diagnosis who gets disability.

For most, this misses the point.

While a diagnosis is important, a diagnosis in and of itself will not support your disability.

The diagnosis is the starting point.

The focus of your case is establishing the limitations specifically caused by your medical diagnosis or treatment.

Limitations can range from slight - have to pause slightly when standing up from sitting too long - to more severe - have to lie down most of the day due to pain and medication side effects.

What is Residual Functional Capacity?

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?”.

What is your ability to work?

The Social Security Administration will look at how your medical condition(s) has affected your ability to exert yourself physically for work-related tasks. These are things like:

  • How long can you sit?
  • How long can you stand?
  • How long can you walk?
  • Exert yourself physically for various work-related activities (such as sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling).
  • Can you do manipulative and postural activities (such as reaching, handling large objects, using your fingers, feeling, climbing stairs or ladders, kneeling, crouching, crawling)?
  • Can you stoop?
  • Can you balance?
  • Can you tolerate certain environmental conditions (such as high or low temperature extremes, wetness, humidity, noise, dust, fumes, odors, gases, poor ventilation, vibrations)?
  • Can you work in hazardous working conditions like around or with machinery?
  • Can you work at heights without any protection?
  • Do you have any problems seeing, hearing, and speaking?
These are things from a physical perspective.

Your RFC encompasses your mental faculties as well.

  • Can you maintain concentration and attention at work for extended periods of time?
  • Can you understand and remember instructions and carry out your duties throughout the day and from day to day?
  • Can you get along with people in your workplace or the general public?
  • Can you cope with changes in the work setting?
  • Can you respond appropriately to supervisors, co-workers, and usual work situations?

For example, let’s assume you have chronic back pain and take narcotic pain 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.
  • You can stand for up to 30 minutes at a time.
  • You cannot operate heavy machinery.
  • Can you do anything else?
  • Are you limited in other ways?

There are a number of other factors that should go into your residual functionality, 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 the 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 residual functionality as well. These factors can include things such as the 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.

Oftentimes, 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 residual functional capacity 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 your age, education, training, and past work history.

Your case is about establishing what your limitations are and how these limitations prevent you from working your past job and/or other jobs.

A thorough understanding of all of the factors that go into an RFC determination is important if you want to have the best chance of success with your SSDI claim.

As an SSDI attorney helping clients nationwide, I can help you understand the residual functionality you will have to prove in order to give your disability case the best chance of success. Give me a call at 985-240-9773.