Residual Functional Capacity Assessment for Soft Tissue Injuries & Burns

What Is Residual Functional Capacity?

If your soft tissue injury is not severe enough to meet or equal a listing at Step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process, the Social Security Administration will need to determine your residual functional capacity (RFC) to decide whether you are disabled at Step 4 and Step 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process.

RFC is a claimant’s ability to perform work-related activities. In other words, it is what you can still do despite your limitations. An RFC for physical impairments is expressed in terms of whether the Social Security Administration believes you can do heavy, medium, light, or sedentary work in spite of your impairments. The lower your RFC, the less the Social Security Administration believes you can do.

Soft Tissue Injuries and Residual Functional Capacity

If you have completed whatever reconstructive surgery is available, but don’t qualify under the listing, you may still have significant residual limitations that could potentially result in a medical-vocational allowance.

There are too many possibilities to list all the possible residual limitations, but pay particular attention to:

  • Muscle weakness and sensory changes from neurological injury.
  • Restrictions in joint motion from damaged soft tissues around joints even if the joints themselves are intact.
  • The degree of retained manipulatory ability in the hands.

Severe burns around joints can also result in scarring that greatly limits the use of a limb, even if there is nothing else wrong with that limb.

In older claimants with adverse vocational profiles in which a medical-vocational allowance would result from even modest long-term residual functional capacity limitations, the long-term outcome of treatment should be assessed before deciding that there will be improvement to non-allowance level severity. Therefore, the Social Security Administration may hold the claim for some months, even when it is clear that the listing is not satisfied.

It is not unusual for claimants to apply for disability benefits soon after a severe soft tissue injury. If injuries are extensive, the Social Security Administration adjudicator should not try to guess that staged surgical procedures will not satisfy the 12 month duration requirement. It may be necessary for the Social Security Administration to delay determination. The treatment outcome of nerve grafts, for example, is not easily predictable. Even if the surgeon relates to the Social Security Administration that there will be no further surgical procedures (in which case this listing cannot be satisfied), it still may be necessary for the Social Security Administration to hold the claim to determine the final outcome for Residual Functional Capacity purposes, if there is the possibility of eventual medical-vocational allowance.

Continue to Getting Your Doctor's Medical Opinion About What You Can Still Do or Soft Tissue Injuries Data Sheet.
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