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Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) is one of the most important concepts in your disability case. The reason it is so important is your RFC can make the difference between winning or losing your SSD and SSI benefits. If you can prove that your RFC prevents you from working, then you win benefits. So, what is your RFC?

The RFC is the medical assessment of what you can physically and mentally do in a work setting. It is the definition of your functional limitations after taking into account all of your impairments.

Your RFC includes both your physical and mental limitations. In terms of physical limitations, the SSA tries to define your ability to sit, stand, walk, and lift, during the course of an 8 hour workday. Likewise, the SSA will include your ability to carry, pull, and push. Find out more about how the SSA defines work here.


In order to figure out your physical RFC, the SSA will examine your medical records. They will take into account what your doctor states in your medical records. Also, the SSA will review any statements from your doctors about your inability to work.

Additionally, they have their own doctors that review your medical records, but never meet or examine you. These reviewing doctors are paid by the government and work for DDS, the state agency who reviews all cases. The SSA will take the medical opinion of these doctors into account too. Likewise, if they need more information, they may send you to  a consultative examination. Learn more here about what to expect at SSA’s consultative exam.

The SSA will also consider descriptions and observations about your limitations from your family, neighbors and friends. Find out more information about what types of evidence the SSA must consider here. For example, your family or friends could write a statement about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of your mental and physical symptoms. Find out more here about RFC and how it combines with age to eliminate work. Also, find out more about SSA’s Medical Vocational Guidelines here.


In order to determine your RFC, the SSA first looks to the medical evidence in your case. That is why it is so important for the SSA to have all of your medical evidence. It is your “burden” or responsibility to provide all of your medical evidence to the SSA.

Typically, hiring a lawyer to help you do this is a wise choice. Learn more here about how to obtain your medical evidence for free.  If you do not have enough medical evidence for them to make a decision, then they will arrange for your to have a consultative examination.

A consultative examination can be done for your mental and your physical impairments. Find out more about consultative examinations here.


For example, if you have physical impairments, the SSA can send you to see a medical doctor. Lately, however, the have been sending claimants to see a physical therapist. Either way, the point of the visit is for the doctor or physical therapist to document your physical limitations.

Therefore, if you use a cane in daily life, make sure you use it when you visit the doctor. Likewise, make sure you tell the doctor what your physical limitations are. If the doctor asks you how much you can lift, tell her about the pain you experience with lifting.

The medical exam is a chance for you to let the SSA know about your limitations. There is not cost for you to attend these examinations. However, if the SSA schedules you for an examination and you fail to attend, then your case will be denied. Learn more about SSA consultative examinations here.


In addition to a physical consultation, the SSA can send you to a mental consultative examination. Typically, the SSA will send you to visit a psychologist. This is at no cost to you.

At the examination, the psychologist will ask you many questions about your mental health. If you have depression or anxiety, make sure you tell the doctor about your symptoms.

For example, people with depression or anxiety discuss symptoms such as insomnia and panic attacks. Often, people at the exam talk to the psychologist about memory problems, crying spells, or weight gain or loss.

The psychologist may also perform testing. For example, you may be subject to I.Q. testing or a memory test. These tests tell the doctor and the SSA if you would have trouble with memory, concentration, or learning new tasks. Additionally, the tests can show trouble with skills, such as reading or doing math.


One of the other things the SSA considers when determining your RFC is your statements on the forms you fill out for them. For example, when you apply you fill out forms about your past work. You also fill out forms during the appeals process about what you do during the day.

Your answers on these forms are often some of the most important statements you make. If you state on your Work History form that you lifted nothing on the job, then that is what the SSA assumes is correct.


Frankly, there are no jobs where you lift “nothing.” But for some reason, many people write that down as an answer. Even desk jobs require some lifting. You might, for example, lift files, boxes of paper, books, or supplies. The SSA wants to know the heaviest weight you lifted on the job.

Think about it. Failing to tell the SSA about the lifting requirements of your past jobs, makes it easier for them to return you to your past jobs. In other words, you are making it easier for them to deny your case. You don’t want that.


The SSA will also want to know if you sat or stood on your past jobs. For example, you will need to state whether you stood behind a counter, like a cashier. Or, you will need to write that you sat at a desk, like a secretary.

It is important to outline what you did on SSA’s forms. The forms also ask if you know how to use tools. Also, they ask about your skills. For example, skills include the ability to write, read diagrams, or create spreadsheets. Skills can also include problem-solving or making decisions. Another skill could be managing people. These questions about skills are on SSA’s forms.


Likewise, when you write down that you can only lift 20 pounds, you are actually stating you can lift 20 pounds repeatedly throughout an 8 hour work day. You don’t know that, because no one tells you.

But whatever you write down on the forms about your ability to lift is what the SSA will use to place you (hypothetically) in a job. If you write down that you can lift 20 pounds, then you may think the SSA will take it to mean you can lift that amount once. However, you would be wrong.


If you write down that you can lift 20 pounds on your Activities of Daily Living form, then the SSA will believe you can lift 20 pounds repetitively for 8 hours a day.

There are thousands of jobs the SSA believes are available to you with that RFC. Being able to lift 20 pounds means you can perform jobs in the light and sedentary category. There are over 200,000 jobs in the national economy in those categories.

If you have back pain from a back operation, then your doctor may have told you to never lift more than 25 pounds. That is a lifetime rule the doctor wants you to follow so you do not injure your back. However, that rule is not your residual functional capacity.

If the SSA asks you about what you can lift, then you need to answer the question as to what you believe you can lift repetitively throughout the course of an 8 hour work day. Chances are good it is less than your doctor’s limitation. Think about what you can actually do all day before you answer SSA’s questions. Because they will hold you to your written answer.

Kettlebell weightlifting woman lifting free weight panoramic banner gym. physical residual functional capacity


The RFC determines your work capability that allows you to perform all of the activities of work at a particular level. The categories of work are sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy. Each level of work has a specific definition. Sedentary exertional demands are less than light work demands, which are, in turn, less than medium.


Below you will find the SSA’s definitions of three categories of work:  sedentary, light, and medium. These will be the most likely be the categories of work that the SSA will use to determine your residual functional capacity.

Another thing to consider is whether the SSA will consider whether or not you have more than one impairment. The answer is yes. The SSA will consider all of your medically determinable impairments. This includes your medical impairments that are not “severe.”

The SSA’s rule to look at the combined effect of all of your medical conditions is explained in SSA’s regulations. It is important, when an ALJ determines RFC, for the judge to include your severe impairments and even those that are not severe. Find out more about the ALJ options here.


Social Security Ruling 83-10 defines sedentary work as involving lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools.

Although sitting is involved, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.

By its very nature, work performed primarily in a seated position entails no significant stooping. Most unskilled sedentary jobs require good use of the hands and fingers for repetitive hand-finger actions.

“Occasionally” means occurring from very little up to one-third of the time. Since being on one’s feet is required “occasionally” at the sedentary level of exertion, periods of standing or walking should total no more than 2 hours of an 8-hour workday.

Sitting should generally total approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday. Work processes in specific jobs will dictate how often and how long a person will need to be on her feet to obtain or return small articles.


SSA’s regulations define light work as lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time. It also requires frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted in a light job may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing.

That is the primary difference between sedentary and most light jobs. A job is also in this category when it involves sitting most of the time but with some pushing and pulling of arm-hand or leg-foot controls, which require greater exertion than in sedentary work. Examples are mattress sewing machine operator, motor-grader operator, and road-roller operator.


Relatively few unskilled light jobs are performed in a seated position.”Frequent” means occurring from one-third to two-thirds of the time. Since frequent lifting or carrying requires being on one’s feet up to two-thirds of a workday, the full range of light work requires standing or walking, off and on, for a total of approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday. Sitting may occur intermittently during the remaining time.

The lifting requirement for the majority of light jobs can be accomplished with occasional, rather than frequent, stooping. Many unskilled light jobs are performed primarily in one location.

In these jobs, the ability to stand is more critical than the ability to walk. The jobs require use of arms and hands to grasp and to hold and turn objects. Generally, light jobs do not require use of the fingers for fine activities to the extent required in sedentary work.


SSA’s regulations define medium work as lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. A full range of medium work requires standing or walking, off and on, for a total of approximately 6 hours in an 8-hour workday.

Also, medium work requires frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. As in light work, sitting may occur intermittently during the remaining time.

Use of the arms and hands is necessary to grasp, hold, and turn objects, as opposed to the finer activities in much sedentary work, which require precision use of the fingers as well as use of the hands and arms. The considerable lifting required for the full range of medium work usually requires frequent bending and stooping.


Stooping is a type of bending in which a person bends his or her body downward and forward by bending the spine at the waist. Flexibility of the knees as well as the torso is important for this activity. Crouching is bending both the legs and spine in order to bend the body downward and forward. You need to be able to do these movements in order to perform medium work.

However, there are relatively few occupations which require exertion in terms of weights that must be lifted at one time. And also few positions which involve the equivalent exertion in pushing and pulling. Most of these jobs are done in a sitting position. Examples include taxi driver, bus driver, and tank truck driver. All of these jobs require some skills. However, driving is a skill that does not transfer to other jobs.

In most medium jobs, being on your feet for most of the day is critical. Being able to frequently lift or carry of objects that weigh up to 25 pounds is often more critical than being able to lift up to 50 pounds at a time.


The classification of a limitation as exertional is related to the Department of Labor’s classification of jobs by exertional levels. As above, those levels are sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy.

Each job level is defined in terms of the strength demands for the job. Strength demands include sitting, standing, and walking. It also includes lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling. Exertional impairments, those physically required by a job, are what makes up the residual functional capacity.


The harder question is – what are “non-exertional” impairments? The SSA defines “non-exertional” impairment as follows: limitations or restrictions which affect your ability to meet the demands of jobs other than the strength demands. For example, demands other than sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling, are considered “non-exertional.”

Some examples of non-exertional limitations include the following:

  • (i) You have problems functioning because you are nervous due to anxiety or depression;
  • (ii) You have trouble maintaining attention or concentrating;
  • (iii) You have problems understanding or remembering detailed instructions;
  • (iv) You have difficulty in seeing or hearing;
  • (v) You have difficulty tolerating some physical features of certain work settings, e.g., you cannot tolerate dust or fumes.

The law requires the SSA to look at all of your exertional and non-exertional impairments to determine your RFC.  Non-exertional impairments can occur with breathing problems, such as asthma and COPD. Find out about asthma disability benefits here. Likewise, find out about COPD disability benefits here.


The mental RFC is the same thing as the physical RFC, except it is about your mind. For example, your mental RFC includes how many minutes you can concentrate at one time. It also includes how often during a normal day you have memory problems.

Likewise, your ability to focus on work tasks will be part of the equation. Additionally, the SSA will also consider your ability to deal with stress and interact with coworkers and supervisors. Find out more here about mental abilities you need to perform unskilled work.

doctors social security disability determine residual functional capacity


One option for determining your RFC involves an evaluation by a claims examiner. The claims examiner works for Disability Determination Services (DDS). DDS is a state run organization that evaluates all Social Security claims.

DDS reviews your medical record. They also review the opinion of a medical consultant, a DDS doctor. DDS hires the medical consultant. Instead of doing an examination, the doctor only reviews your records.

Remember, DDS does not magically have access to all of your medical records. You need to give them to the SSA. If you do not provide them, then DDS does not have them.

The DDS physician will identify how and if your current limitations prevent you from working. In other words, the DDS physician will outline your residual functional capacity by looking at your records. DDS can also look at your RFC is they are trying to determine medical improvement. This occurs when they are trying to take away or cease your benefits.

Additionally, you also have the option to have a Residual Functional Capacity form filled out by your treating doctor. Your treating doctor knows more than anyone about your disability and the impact it is having on your ability to work.

The SSA will take your doctor’s opinion seriously. They will take it into consideration when determining whether you are eligible to receive benefits. Overall, having your doctor’s help may increase your chances of your claim being approved.


The residual functional capacity is what is “found” at step four of the disability review process. While DDS determines your RFC at the lower levels of your claim. Once the case moves to the a hearing, it is the ALJ who will determine your RFC. Your RFC can help you win benefits by showing that you cannot physical or mentally sustain a job 40 hours a week. Find out more about disability hearings here.

In order for the ALJ’s RFC assessment to comply with SSA’s regulations, the RFC assessment must include a narrative discussion. The discussion must  describe how the evidence supports each conclusion, citing specific medical facts (e.g., laboratory findings) and non-medical evidence (e.g., daily activities, observations).


In assessing RFC, the ALJ must discuss the individual’s ability to perform sustained work activities in an ordinary work setting on a regular and continuing basis (i.e., 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent work schedule).

Also, the ALJ must describe the maximum amount of each work-related activity the individual can perform based on the evidence available in the case record. The ALJ must also explain how any material inconsistencies or ambiguities in the evidence was considered and resolved.

In all cases in which symptoms, such as pain, are alleged, the RFC assessment must:

  • Contain a complete discussion and analysis of the objective medical and other evidence, including complaints of pain and other symptoms and the adjudicator’s personal observations, if appropriate;
  • Include a resolution of any inconsistencies in the evidence as a whole; and
  • Set forth a logical explanation of the effects of the symptoms, including pain, on the individual’s ability to work.

For more information about how the SSA assesses the residual functional capacity, go to Social Security Ruling 96-8p.


Your medical records may contain your diagnosis and document your symptoms. But chances are that your medical records do not contain your residual functional capacity (RFC). In order to outline your RFC, you should ask you doctor to fill out a form containing your limitations. Likewise, your doctor could write a letter explaining your RFC.

The RFC states how much you can lift and how many minutes you can sit at one time before you need to stand up. Also, your doctor should explain how many minutes you can stand at one time before you need to sit down. If you need to lay down during the day, your doctor should include that information. If you have trouble using your hands for fine fingering, grasping, or pinching, your doctor should say so. Learn more about the use of the hand and fingers in our article on carpal tunnel syndrome.


Mental impairments can also be part of your RFC. If you have a treating psychologist or counselor, they can complete an RFC form. Likewise, they can write a letter outlining your limitations. Your mental RFC includes how many minutes you can concentrate on a task, like reading or following instructions.

If you have memory problems on a daily basis, your counselor can document it. Also, if you have trouble getting alone with other people, this is part of your RFC. Almost all jobs require the ability to get along with coworkers, supervisors, and even the public. Mental issues can interfere with your ability to get along with others. Make sure your doctors document these symptoms to help your case.

If your doctor has done a good job of documenting your physical and mental symptoms in your medical record, they will carry a significant amount of weight when the judge or the SSA defines your RFC.

The SSA does not tell applicants that you can request your doctor complete the RFC for you. While some doctors may be unwilling to do so, many other doctors will assist their patients with this task. Having your own doctor complete an RFC on your behalf enhances your chances of winning your benefits.


Once DDS reviews the claim and denies it, then it is time to request a hearing. After you request a hearing, your file, which contains your medical records up to that point, moves to the Office of Hearings Operations. Then, the SSA will schedule a disability hearing. However, it can take from six months to a year for them to schedule a hearing.

Seven days prior to your hearing, you will need to submit all updated medical records in your case. You will need to update the medical records because SSA does not collect your records between the time that DDS reviews your case and the date of your hearing. The SSA judge reviews your medical records and the SSA file before you have your hearing with him or her.


At the hearing, the ALJ will ask you questions about your residual functional capacity. Find out more here about what questions the ALJ will ask at your hearing. The judge will decide what your RFC is and, using the regulations, will determine whether you can return to your past work.

Remember, your past work is largely defined by what you report. If you report that your past job required “no lifting,” and the judge determines you can lift 10 pounds, then it is likely the judge will find you have the ability to perform your past work.

If the judge determines you cannot perform your past jobs, then the judge will prepare a hypothetical question for a vocational expert that includes your residual functional capacity. This is where proper documentation of your RFC comes into play. If you need more information about the vocational expert, read here.

If your RFC limits you to less than sedentary, unskilled work, then there are no jobs you can perform. Another way to look at it is:  if your RFC shows you cannot complete an 8 hour workday, then you cannot work. For example, if you need to lay down during the day for 2 hours, then no employer will tolerate that behavior. Thus, you cannot work.

future residual functional capacity


If you cannot work, your SSD case will dictate the money you have for the future. You need to hire a law firm that cares about your future benefits. Cannon Disability Law is one of the best firms in the country. We are also one of the best Social Security Disability firms in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The lawyers at Cannon Disability Law are also members of the National Organization of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives. Learn more about Utah SSD benefits here. Nevada Disability Information can also be found on this website. If you are from California, our website has California disability information. However, we can represent you no matter where you live.


There are many important issues, like your residual functional capacity, that play a large role in whether you win your SSDI and SSI benefits. You need a lawyer who understands those issues. You also need an attorney who knows the law. Cannon Disability wants to be your legal team. Hire us for our experience. Over the last 30 years, we have won over 20,000 SSDI and SSI claims.

Another important factor to consider is what it costs to hire an attorney. Cannon Disability is affordable. We work on a contingency fee basis only. That means you do not pay an attorney fee until we win your case. The attorney fee comes out of your back benefit. If we do not win your case, then there is no back benefit. Therefore, you will not owe us an attorney fee if we do not win your benefits.


How much is the attorney fee? It is 25% of your back benefit. But, the fee is capped at $7200. You do not pay more than the cap of $7200. And, 25% is usually less than the $7200 cap. You will pay either 25% of the back benefit or the $7200 cap. You pay whatever is the lesser amount.

For example, if your back benefit was $100,000, our attorney fee would be $7200, not $25,000. Or, if your back benefit was $10,000, then you would pay 25% of the back benefit. That would be $2500.


If there are costs in your case, then you pay for those costs. But the costs are usually less than $100. You must also pay to obtain a copy of your medical records. The cost of your medical records is whatever your doctor charges for them.

You owe costs whether we win or lose your case. But, to hire most lawyers, you have to pay a fee upfront. However, you can’t do that because you don’t have a job. We understand. Which is why you only pay an attorney fee to us if we win your SSD and SSI case.


At Cannon Disability Law, we can help you apply for benefits. In our office, we have trained staff who will help you complete your application. Usually, we help you file your application online on Social Security’s website. You can learn more about our lawyers and staff on our About Us page.

If you receive a denial, then we can help you appeal it. Likewise, if your case is set for a hearing, then we represent you at your hearing before an ALJ.

One of the things we do is help you be a good witness at your hearing. We meet with your before the hearing. At the meeting, we talk about how to answer questions. We also let you know what kind of questions you will be asked. Learn more about a disability hearing here.


There are many law firms that claim they practice Social Security law. However, most of those firms do other types of cases. For example, some firms practice personal injury or Worker’s Compensation law. We don’t do that.

Our firm only takes SSDI and SSI cases. We don’t practice any other kind of law. Our firm believes it is important to focus on Social Security cases, because that is our specialty.

It is hard to trust your future to a lawyer. We understand. That is why we include information about our attorneys on our website. Dianna Cannon has been helping people win benefits for the past 30 years. She has written a book about Social Security law for other lawyers. Brett Bunkall and Andria Summers have over 30 years of combined legal experience. They work hard for our clients every day. We focus on the law. Find out more about the representatives at Cannon Disability on About Us page.


Our goal is to win your case. We do win cases prior to the hearing stage. However, we also win cases at the hearing level. If you do not win your case at the hearing, you can appeal. There are only a few appeal options. If necessary, we can appeal your case to the Appeals Council.

If the Appeals Council denies review, then we can file an appeal in Federal Court. Hopefully, your case will never go that far. In order to fight government agency decisions you need a good lawyer. If you need help at any level of your case, then call us.


Proving your residual functional capacity is only one element in your Social Security case. In order to in win your benefits, you can prove that you meet or equal a listing. If you do not meet or equal a listing, your can try to win your case with the vocational expert. There are many complex Social Security laws. And, they all apply to each case.

However, we know your case is different than anyone else’s case. You may have cancer or arthritis in your spine. Or, you may have a rare disease. Even if you don’t have a rare disease, your symptoms are stopping you from working. We know it is daunting. No one wants to face the SSA alone. Especially when you are not feeling your best and you don’t have a job.


The best thing about hiring us is we take care of your case. We have specialists who will help you apply for SSD and SSI benefits. If you need help filing out SSA’s paperwork, we will help you fill out the forms. We help you collect your records. Also, we appeal any SSA denial. If your case is denied, then we request your hearing.

Then, we prepare you for court. Preparation for court requires review of your records. It also requires preparing you as a witness. We help you testify about your condition and we explain the questions the judge will ask you in court.


Before the hearing, we review your physical and mental conditions. That way you can explain how you are not able to complete an 8-hour workday because of your severe medical conditions. Even though every judge is different, all of the questions revolve around whether or not you can work.

Prepare yourself to answer questions about your physical and mental health. If you hire us to represent you, then we will give you a list of questions to help you prepare you to be a witness. Additionally, we will review your answers with you. This will help you know that you are ready for your hearing.

It is important for you to understand the judge’s questions. You need to be able to explain your physical and mental conditions. We work with you. Our job is to help explain your symptoms. You have to prove why you can’t work.  We help you do that. That is why we say we are working as a team.

It takes a team effort to get through this process. Now is the time to ask for help. Don’t go it alone. Ask for help. We offer a free review of your case. Even if we review your case, there is no obligation to become our client. You can call and ask questions. Contact us today. We will help you prove your residual functional capacity to the SSA.

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