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Residual Functional Capacity and Why It Matters

October 1, 2021 Disability

The Social Security disability program requires that eligible claimants be completely disabled. This means that they cannot do the work they did before their disability, nor can they transition to any other type of work that would constitute Substantial Gainful Activity. While it may be easy to determine that you cannot do your previous job, it can often be much harder to show that you cannot transition to any other type of work and, even if you could, what it would be. The Social Security Administration (SSA) refers to this concept as Residual Functional Capacity, which our Baltimore Social Security lawyer explains in more detail below. 

What Is Residual Functional Capacity? 

The SSA makes disability determinations based on qualifying conditions listed in the Blue Book using very specific eligibility criteria. However, even if an individual does not suffer from a listed condition or does not meet all of the eligibility criteria for a specific condition, he or she may nonetheless be considered disabled under certain circumstances. In those cases, the SSA will evaluate the individual’s functional limitations and restrictions to determine whether he or she is disabled. An individual’s Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) is his or her remaining ability to do work-related and mental activities after taking his or her disability into account. 

How Does the SSA Determine Residual Functional Capacity? 

When evaluating an individual’s RFC, the SSA looks to both exertional and non-exertional limitations. To measure exertional capacity, the SSA looks to the individual’s ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, carry, push, and pull, and classifies the types of work the individual may be able to do into five categories: 

  • Sedentary work: Involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools
  • Light work: involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds
  • Medium work: Involves lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds
  • Heavy work: Involves lifting no more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 50 pounds
  • Very heavy work: Involves lifting objects weighing more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing 50 pounds or more

To measure non-exertional capacity, the SSA looks to the individual’s ability to perform all other work-related tasks besides sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling. This can include seeing and hearing, concentrating, remembering instructions, tolerating dust and fumes, etc. 

Why Residual Functional Capacity Matters

Once the SSA determines your RFC, it can use it to determine whether you can perform your previous job and/or transition to other types of work. For example, if your RFC allows you to perform only sedentary work, but your previous job was in construction, the SSA may determine that you cannot return to your old job. If your RFC — along with vocational factors — also prevents you from engaging in other types of work, the RFC determination may be used to form the basis of a medical-vocational allowance. 

Contact a Baltimore Social Security Lawyer for More Information

If you suffer from a disability that prevents you from working but is not listed in the Blue Book, you may have other avenues through which to obtain disability benefits. For more information, please contact Baltimore Social Security lawyer Emmett B. Irwin by calling 443-839-0818 or using our online contact form.

I have closed my law firm effective 10/21/22. If you believe you are a current client, you are probably mistaken. I am only representing clients in the very last stage of their cases where a decision is about to be rendered and where no action needs to be taken in order to get that decision. I have withdrawn from all other cases. I am no longer representing you and you should have gotten a letter to that effect. For Social Security matters, I advise you call Jenkins, Block & Associates at 410-727-4000 or email at or - for all other matters I have no recommended referral. I do not regularly monitor this email or my phone messages. Requests for former client files should be made in writing to:

Emmett B. Irwin
1777 Reisterstown Rd. Suite 265
Pikesville, MD 21208