What is a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)?

The Social Security Administration requires individuals applying for disability benefits to meet various eligibility criteria. One of the ways in which the Social Security Administration evaluates a disability claim is through the residual functional capacity, known as RFC.

In layman's terms, residual functional capacity defines your capability to engage in functional activities or tasks that you can still accomplish despite a physical or mental work limitation. More specifically, the residual functional capacity measures your ability to engage in gainful employment or work even taking into consideration any medical condition. For example, some of the things that the Social Security Administration may look at in regard to residual functional capacity include but are not limited to:

  • Can you speak, hear, and see?
  • Are you able to concentrate and focus on your work?
  • Are you capable of understanding, remembering, and carrying out tasks as they have been directed to you?
  • Are you able to cope with changes to your job or a workplace setting or environment?
  • How long can you perform physical activities such as standing, walking, sitting, pushing or pulling?
  • Are you able to use your fingers, balance, kneel down, or reach for or handle large objects, as determined by your job function in a workplace environment?

For example, you may have a herniated disc and have a limitation on the amount of poundage you can carry or lift. On the other hand, you may have been placed on medications that make it difficult for you to focus or concentrate on your computer or paperwork. If you've had a lower back injury or hip injury, you may find it difficult, if not impossible, to sit for long periods.

The residual functional capacity is also used for individuals who may have been diagnosed with brain injury, limited mental functioning, or intermittent brain seizure activity. For example, factors such as whether a person can follow directions, maintain levels of concentration, or get along with others all play a role in determining your residual functional capacity.

How does the RFC Determine Disability?

The residual functional capacity as defined by the Social Security Administration will determine whether you can meet requirements for sedentary, light, medium or heavy workloads or environments. Your scoring on the residual functional capacity form must show that you're unable to perform work as you have done in the past based on your current and expected duration of your disability.

The residual functional capacity form/questionnaire is most typically completed by a physician with the disability determination services, your own physician, or following a consultative exam with a doctor who works in some capacity for the Social Security Administration.

According to code 416.945, your Residual Functional Capacity under the Code of Federal Regulations, the Social Security Administration states, "When we assess your residual functional capacity, we will consider your ability to meet the physical, mental, sensory, and other requirements of work, as described in paragraphs (b), (c), and (d), of this section."

For more information regarding this code, access the SocialSecurity.gov website, or contact a Social Security lawyer who knows the system well. Click here for a free evaluation of your claim from an attorney who serves your area.