What Are Functional Limitations & How Do They Affect Disability Benefits?

As you work through securing your Social Security disability benefits, you might run across the term functional limitations. Evidence of a physical, mental, or environmental limitation could help you secure benefits or win an appeal. Here is some information about functional limitations and how the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses evidence of these conditions.

How the SSA Uses Evidence of Functional Limitations

The SSA pays disability benefits when your injury or illness prevents you from working. This could be the inability to work at your current job or train for a new job. The SSA decides whether you satisfy this test by comparing what you can do to the things you need to be able to do for gainful activity.

For example, suppose that you work as a bookkeeper. A disability that affects your legs might not prevent you from working. However, a disability that affects the neck and shoulders could. To prove that your condition affects your ability to work, you submit evidence of the limitations imposed by your disability. Thus, you could submit proof that your neck and shoulder injury prevents you from:

  • Turning your head
  • Sitting for longer than a few minutes
  • Lifting your hands above your waist

These limitations may stop you from working as a bookkeeper or training for a new job. If they do, the SSA should accept your claim for disability benefits.

Types of Functional Limitations

The SSA accepts evidence of three types of limitations. First, remember that the SSA wants to know how your disability limits your ability to work. Therefore, the SSA will give less weight to limitations that only affect your personal life.

Physical Limitations

You can submit evidence showing that your disability limits your ability to perform physical tasks that relate to work. These physical tasks can include:

  • Climbing and balancing
  • Fine manual dexterity
  • Hearing
  • Kneeling and crawling
  • Using an upper extremity
  • Alternately sitting and standing
  • Reaching and handling
  • Stooping and crouching
  • Seeing

If you cannot perform these tasks, submitting evidence of these limitations can help you support your claim for disability benefits.

Mental Limitations

The SSA may consider you to be disabled if you have mental limitations that prevent you from working or training. To work or train, you must:

  • Understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions
  • Make work-related decisions
  • Respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and work situations
  • Deal with changes in a routine work setting

You can submit evidence that your mental disorder prevents you from doing one or more of these tasks.

Environmental Limitations

As explained by the SSA, you might have the physical and mental capacity to work or train. But working or training might expose you or your co-workers to a substantial risk of bodily harm. In addition, environmental limitations prevent you from working despite your ability to do so. Some examples of environmental limitations include disabilities that restrict your ability to work:

  • Near dangerous moving machinery
  • Around certain chemicals
  • In an environment with excessive dust or noise
  • In extreme heat or cold

You and your doctor might identify other environmental conditions that aggravate your illness or injury, as well.

How Do Functional Limitations Impact Disability Benefits?

Your residual functional capacity (RFC) describes what you can do. The SSA takes all the physical, mental, and environmental requirements for your job and subtracts all of your limitations. Your RFC consists of whatever remains. The more limitations you prove, the less RFC you have. You want the lowest possible RFC. A low RFC means that your disability limits your ability to work or train. Evidence of functional limitations increases your likelihood of getting disability benefits by reducing your RFC.

Getting the Benefits You Deserve

At Disability Support Services, we focus on Social Security cases. We have developed the knowledge and experience to help our clients maximize their chances of getting disability benefits. If you’ve got questions about functional limitations, contact us to discuss the evidence you can submit to prove your physical, mental, or environmental limitations.