Physical Residual Functional Capacity

If you’ve submitted an application for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits and the condition that’s the basis for your disability claim doesn’t precisely meet the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Bluebook definition, then you may still be found eligible to receive SSD benefits under a medical vocational allowance. In order to evaluate your condition and determine if you meet the overall disability requirements for receiving SSD, the SSA will assess your “physical residual functional capacity” (physical RFC).

Physical residual functional capacity is the method the SSA uses to assess an applicant’s ability to perform essential job duties. Jobs are classified according to the physical requirements of the position, and the SSA looks at your physical limitations to determine in which positions you may still be able to work.

When evaluating physical residual functional capacity, the SSA uses five job classifications to categorize positions. These same categories are assigned to SSD applicants based on their physical limitations as reported by their treating physician on the RFC form. The applicant’s capacity is then compared with jobs to determine if the physical symptoms and limitations the applicant suffers qualify him or her for SSD benefits.

The categories the SSA assigns to jobs and applicants in physical RFC classifications are: (1) sedentary work, (2) light work, (3) medium work, (4) heavy work, and (5) very heavy work. These primary classifications take into account the physical exertion requirements common in different employment situations, like lifting and carrying a specific number of pounds, and how frequently the activity must be performed. Also accounted for in these classifications are other physical exertion activities, like pushing, pulling, walking and standing.

Physical RFCs also include details on other physical activities, even those that don’t require exertion. These can include stooping, sitting, use of fingers, and the ability to remember information, for example.

If the assessment of your physical RFC shows, for instance, that you can perform the essential job functions of a medium work position and your previous jobs were also in this category, then you may be denied disability benefits. This is because the SSA’s findings show you’re still able to perform the work and should therefore be able to get and maintain gainful employment in your field of experience.

However, if the physical RFC assessment completed by the SSA shows you’re unable to perform even sedentary work, then you would be found eligible for SSD, as your medical condition would make it impossible for you to maintain gainful employment in your prior field or even in another field in which the physical work requirements are less strenuous.

There are other factors that play a part in determination of SSD eligibility as well, even when a physical RFC is completed and medical vocational allowance is considered. Your age, work history and experience, training, level of education and other jobs skills and qualifications are all considered when the SSA determines if your are fully disabled and not qualified to find employment in a field in which your physical limitations wouldn’t prevent you from earning a living.