What Is a Residual Functional Capacity Evaluation (RFC)?

Christian Worstell
In this article...
  • The Social Security Administration uses a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) assessment as part of a disability application. Learn what an RFC means for your disability application and explore your rights to appeal a disability decision.

Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) is an evaluation of the remaining ability of an individual to perform work-related tasks despite their impairments.

In this guide, we will examine the complexities of RFC and how it affects your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.

Table of Contents:


What Is Residual Functional Capacity?

Residual functional capacity (RFC) looks at how much a person can do and for how long they can sustain the activity.

The Social Security Administration will consider factors such as carrying, standing, bending and more when determining RFC. Additionally, non-exertional factors such as concentration level and reliability are also taken into consideration.

The RFC assessment evaluates your abilities based on the information provided in your medical records regarding your impairments and their effects on you. Your doctor may provide details about what activities you can still do despite having a disability or illness that affects your daily life. 

Understanding Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)

The RFC evaluation is used to decide if a person can still do any kind of job or be qualified for government help programs, like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Physical Limitations

The physical aspects of RFC focus on an individual's capacity to carry out tasks that involve strength demands like lifting, carrying, standing, walking, and sitting for extended periods. These limitations are classified into different categories based on the maximum amount of weight one can lift and carry:

  • Sedentary Work: Lifting no more than 10 pounds occasionally
  • Light Work: Lifting up to 20 pounds occasionally and up to 10 pounds frequently
  • Medium Work: Lifting up to 50 pounds occasionally and up to 25 pounds frequently

Mental Limitations

Mental RFC evaluates how cognitive impairments or psychological disorders affect an individual's ability to complete tasks requiring concentration, memory retention, social interaction skills and decision-making abilities.

Examples include understanding instructions given by others.

Non-Exertional Limitations

Non-exertional limitations are restrictions that do not directly relate to strength demands but can still impact an individual's ability to perform specific tasks or jobs.

Examples include difficulty with fine motor skills, balancing issues, environmental sensitivities (such as certain temperatures), and limitations caused by pain.

Full Range of Work

The RFC assessment aims to determine if a person can perform a full range of work within their exertional level despite their impairments.

For example, someone with an RFC for medium work should be able to carry out all tasks classified under sedentary, light, and medium levels without significant difficulties.

Parts of the RFC Examination

The RFC assessment evaluates your ability to perform work-related tasks despite any physical or mental limitations you may have. This section will outline the factors considered during the evaluation and provide insight into how medical professionals assess your RFC.

Medical Evidence and Documentation

The primary source of information used to determine your RFC is medical evidence.

This includes records from doctors, hospitals, clinics, therapists, and other healthcare providers who have treated you for your condition(s).Physical Abilities Assessment

Your physical abilities are evaluated based on several factors:

  • Musculoskeletal function: strength, range of motion, coordination
  • Cardiovascular endurance: heart rate response to exertion and recovery time after exercise
  • Pulmonary function: lung capacity and efficiency in oxygen exchange
  • Sensory capabilities: vision, hearing acuity
  • Fine motor skills: hand dexterity for grasping objects or manipulating tools

Impact of RFC on Benefits

In this section, we will explore how an individual's RFC can affect their eligibility for SSDI and other related benefits.

Eligibility Criteria for SSDI

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a strict set of criteria to determine whether an individual qualifies for disability benefits under SSDI. These criteria include:

  • A medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death.
  • An inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to the impairment.
  • Sufficient work credits based on age and work history.

The Role of RFC in Determining Benefit Eligibility

Your RFC plays a significant role in determining your eligibility for SSDI benefits because it helps SSA evaluate whether you are capable of performing any type of work despite your impairments.

If your RFC assessment shows that you have limitations preventing you from engaging in substantial gainful activity, then SSA may consider granting disability benefits.

Matching Your Limitations with Job Demands

The SSA compares your assessed functional capacity with the demands required by various occupations listed within its Dictionary Of Occupational Titles (DOT).

By matching these requirements against what tasks you can still perform, they decide if there are any jobs you can reasonably do. If no suitable occupations are found, your chances of being approved for SSDI benefits increase.

Age, Education, and Work Experience

In addition to assessing your RFC, the SSA also considers factors such as age, education level and work experience when determining eligibility for disability benefits.

Older individuals with fewer educational qualifications or job abilities may be more likely to get benefits, considering their restricted capacity to adjust to fresh job requirements or pick up new skills.

Appealing an Disability Decision

If you believe that your RFC assessment was not accurate or did not take into account all relevant information about your condition(s), it is possible to appeal the decision.

This process typically involves providing additional medical evidence and documentation supporting your claim that you cannot engage in substantial gainful activity due to your impairments.

Managing Health Conditions with RFC

By taking proactive steps to manage your symptoms and maintain overall wellness, you can potentially increase your chances of qualifying for disability benefits or other government programs.

Develop a Comprehensive Treatment Plan

Creating a personalized healthcare plan with your provider to address your individual needs is vital for successful management of health issues.

A comprehensive treatment plan may include medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and lifestyle modifications such as diet or exercise alterations.

Be sure to follow through on all prescribed treatments and communicate regularly with your healthcare team about any concerns or adjustments needed.

Document Your Medical History

Make sure you keep accurate records of your medical appointments, diagnoses, test results, treatments received and their effectiveness to help support your RFC determination when applying for benefits like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

Keep track of any limitations caused by your condition(s), including difficulties performing daily tasks or work-related activities.

C. Seek Support from Professionals & Community Resources


  • Vocational Rehabilitation Services: These services aim at helping individuals with disabilities find suitable employment opportunities while accommodating their unique needs. Reach out to local vocational rehabilitation agencies for assistance in job training and placement services tailored specifically towards those living with disabilities.

  • Educational Programs: Pursuing education related to self-management techniques can be beneficial in coping better with chronic illnesses while enhancing employability skills simultaneously; consider enrolling in courses offered by community colleges or adult learning centers focused on topics like stress management, nutrition, or pain management.

  • Support Groups: Connecting with others who share similar experiences can provide emotional support and practical advice on managing health conditions. Look for local or online support groups related to your specific condition(s).

D. Adapting Your Work Environment

If you are still able to work but need accommodations due to your health condition(s), consider discussing potential adjustments with your employer under the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Examples of reasonable accommodations may include modified work schedules, assistive technology devices, ergonomic furniture, or job restructuring.

Incorporating these strategies into your daily life can help manage health conditions while maintaining a functional capacity that aligns with RFC requirements.

Remember that open communication and collaboration between you and your healthcare team is key in achieving optimal results when it comes to managing chronic illnesses effectively.

Resources for Understanding and Applying for Benefits

When it comes to applying for disability benefits or other government benefits, there are several resources available that can help guide you through the process.

These resources provide valuable information on eligibility criteria, application procedures, and tips for managing health insurance benefits, financial assistance and more.

Social Security Administration (SSA)

The Social Security Administration is an essential resource when seeking information about disability benefits programs such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Their website offers comprehensive guides on determining eligibility, submitting applications, and appealing decisions if necessary.

National Council on Aging (NCOA)

The National Council on Aging provides extensive resources related to aging well both physically and financially which includes guidance regarding government benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

The NCOA offer helpful tools like an online Benefits Checkup tool designed specifically for identifying potential financial aid opportunities based upon individual circumstances.

State Agencies & Non-Profit Organizations

Contact your state's Department of Health Services or equivalent agency responsible for overseeing public assistance programs within your region. They may offer additional guidance on applying for benefits related to RFC.

Non-profit organizations, such as AARP, also provide valuable resources and support services aimed at helping seniors navigate the complexities of government benefit programs.

Taking advantage of these resources can help you better understand your residual functional capacity and how it impacts your eligibility for various government benefits. 

RFC and Disability Application FAQs

What is residual functional capacity?

RFC stands for Residual Functional Capacity. An RFC test assesses an individual's capacity to perform work-related activities on a continual basis.

The RFC assessment looks at the individual's current level of functioning in various areas such as walking, lifting, sitting, standing, reaching and carrying items. The Social Security Administration utilizes the RFC assessment to decide if a person is qualified for disability benefits.

What is RFC for Social Security disability?

This evaluation ascertains an individual's capability to accomplish job-related activities in view of their physical, mental and/or psychological restrictions. The findings are then applied by the Social Security Administration to decide whether or not a person qualifies for disability benefits.


Having a thorough understanding of residual functional capacity (RFC) is important for anyone seeking disability benefits.

Having the proper information available can assist you in making sure your disability application is successful and that you get the most advantageous outcome.

Christian Worstell
About the Author

Christian Worstell is a senior Medicare and health insurance writer with HelpAdivsor.com. He is also a licensed health insurance agent. Christian is well-known in the insurance industry for the thousands of educational articles he’s written, helping Americans better understand their health insurance and Medicare coverage.

Christian’s work as a Medicare expert has appeared in several top-tier and trade news outlets including Forbes, MarketWatch, WebMD and Yahoo! Finance.

While at HelpAdvisor, Christian has written hundreds of articles that teach Medicare beneficiaries the best practices for navigating Medicare. His articles are read by thousands of older Americans each month. By better understanding their health care coverage, readers may hopefully learn how to limit their out-of-pocket Medicare spending and access quality medical care.

Christian’s passion for his role stems from his desire to make a difference in the senior community. He strongly believes that the more beneficiaries know about their Medicare coverage, the better their overall health and wellness is as a result.

A current resident of Raleigh, Christian is a graduate of Shippensburg University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. You can find Christian’s most recent articles in our blog.

If you’re a member of the media looking to connect with Christian, please don’t hesitate to email our public relations team at Mike@MyHelpAdvisor.com.

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