In making a decision on your claim, Social Security will determine your maximum Residual Functional Capacity, or RFC. Your RFC is the maximum functional ability that you retain when considering the combined effects of all of your medical impairments. Certain steps of the Sequential Evaluation Process make use of the RFC determination.
RFC Is A Way Of Documenting What You Can and Can’t Do
The Residual Functional Capacity is used by the Social Security Administration when trying to determine if an applicant is “disabled” by their definition. It is primarily used when an applicant’s conditions do not meet a listed impairment to see if the applicant should still be considered as disabled.
Along the spectrum of RFCs, the lowest exertional level is sedentary work. Generally, sedentary work is not physically demanding. It is what you would consider a “sit-down” job. A person capable of sedentary work generally can sit for 6 hours in an 8 hour work day, stand or walk for 2 hours in an 8 hour work day, and can lift objects weighing 10 pounds or less. If a person is unable to meet even these demands on a regular and continuous basis, then they have an RFC of less than sedentary. Therefore, if your physical conditions would prevent you from sitting, standing or walking in combination for a full 8 hour day, then you would have an RFC of less than sedentary. For example, if your conditions require that you lie down and elevate your feet for at least 1 hour each day, that would obviously prevent you from working a normal 8 hour work day, and would likely result in a finding that your RFC is less than sedentary.
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It Goes Beyond Just Strength & Motion
In addition to purely exertional limitations, a person’s RFC can be further limited by non-exertional limitations. These can include manipulative limitations, such as difficulty gripping or handling small objects; environmental limitations, such as an inability to be around dust or fumes; social limitations, such as difficulty working closely with co-workers; or cognitive limitations, such as difficulty concentrating and focusing for extended periods of time. All of these limitations can limit the types of work a person can do, and therefore limit their maximum RFC.
Limitations & What They Mean
When determining an applicant’s RFC, the following types of limitations are generally taken into account:
- Exertional (how much can you sit, stand, walk, lift, carry)
- Manipulative (ability to reach, handle, use fingers)
- Postural (ability to climb ramps and stairs, climb ropes, ladders and scaffolding, bend, stoop, crouch, kneel, balance, and the like)
- Environmental (withstand heat, cold, noise, vibration, operate around hazards like machinery or unprotected heights)
- Non-Exertional (includes mental limitations, such as concentration, persistence, pace, ability to interact)
Again, in determining your RFC, Social Security must take into account all of your symptoms and limitations, both physical and psychological. If your symptoms and limitations would make you unable to perform even sedentary work, then Social Security should determine that you are disabled.
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