Determining Residual Functional Capacity in a Social Security Claim

Posted on July 3rd, 2014

Probably the most important evidence or documents that you need in your Social Security disability case is a report or opinion from your doctor about what your restrictions and limitations are, which means an opinion about what you can or cannot do. Of course, you also need medical records to show why those restrictions and limitations are reasonable, but medical records alone will not usually be enough to win a case.

When deciding whether to grant disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (either the disability claims examiner, or, if your case is at a hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”)) will examine the medical records, the opinion of restrictions and limitations provided by your treating doctors, and the opinions of the SSA doctors who may have examined you or reviewed your records. The claims examiner or ALJ will consider all those records, giving the most weight to the opinion of your treating doctors, so long as your treating doctor’s opinion is consistent with your medical records. The claims examiner or judge will consider all that information and make a Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) assessment from the medical records they receive. The claims examiner or judge will then compare that RFC to the requirements of the jobs you have done, or other jobs you might be able to do, to determine if you can still work. At Eric Buchanan & Associates, we want you to understand what types of restrictions and limitations that the claims examiner or judge will use in order to make such an assessment.

RFC Assessment Criteria

• How much a claimant can lift, on a frequent and on an occasional basis. If a claimant can lift 10 pounds frequently and 25 pounds occasionally, that would receive a “light RFC;” the ability to lift 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds would earn a “medium RFC.
• How long a claimant can sit or stand. This will have an impact on the types of jobs they will be considered capable or incapable of doing based on sitting and standing times.
• How well a claimant can reach forward and overhead. Degenerative disc disease or arthritis in the upper extremities would affect the ability to perform overhead reaching or reaching one’s arms to shoulder level might be significantly impaired.
• How well a claimant can crouch, stoop, or bend. A claimant with a back injury may have limitations on the using the large muscle groups in the legs to crouch, stoop, or bend.
• How well a claimant performs fine motor skills with the hands and fingers. Arthritis and disorders like Parkinson’s Disease can affect the ability to use the hands.
• How well a patent can hear and see. Impairments could make operating hazardous machinery prohibitive. And many jobs use the telephone or computer, and require good hearing and vision.

Additionally, there are other limitations that can go into and RFC. This is not a complete list of everything that may limit you that a claims examiner or judge must consider. For example, if you need to lie down during the day, or if your pain is so bad that you cannot concentrate very long, these are the types of restrictions that can keep you from working. Our firm will work hard to get your doctor to document all the reasons your medical condition keeps your from working, so that we can explain to SSA why your RFC is limiting enough that you should be found disabled.

Getting Legal Help
The experienced disability team at Eric Buchanan & Associates has handled thousands of disability claims, and has many years of experience in disability insurance, ERISA long term disability and Social Security disability law. Give us a call today at 877-634-2506 or email us at to set up your appointment.