When you deal with a disability that affects every area of your life—you must convince the SSA that your disability prevents you from working—you may begin to feel hopeless, as well as frustrated and overwhelmed. Having an experienced Social Security disability attorney helping you obtain disability benefits can make a significant difference in the outcome. It can also go a long way toward decreasing the frustrations you have likely already encountered. Attorney Brian Carmichael serves those seeking physical limitations in disability claims benefits across the nation.
Brian offers a free comprehensive consultation that will answer your questions concerning Social Security disability benefits. The Carmichael Law Group has over 300 positive Google reviews, and years of experience helping disabled individuals receive the benefits they need and deserve. When you have encountered one stumbling block after another while trying to obtain SSD benefits, don’t give up—Contact the Carmichael Law Group and speak to attorney Brian Carmichael.
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What Are Functional Physical Limitations?
As you work to secure Social Security disability benefits you may have encountered the term “functional limitations.” A functional limitation is a restriction or impairment in an individual’s ability to function that falls outside the normal range for a particular activity. In simpler terms, a functional limitation determines your ability to work and make a living. A functional limitation can be mental, physical, or environmental.
Physical limitations in disability claims related to physical activities could be easy to spot like difficulty walking, sitting, standing, balancing, or kneeling, or could be less obvious like an inability to reach out and handle an object, difficulty feeling sizes, shapes, and textures, or issues with hearing or vision. Environmental functional limitations can relate to mental or physical issues. As an example, you might be able to sit, stand, and walk for your job, but the presence of certain chemicals, dust, noise, or extreme heat or cold may prevent you from working at your normal job.
When your injury or illness prevents you from working at your current job or training for a new job, the SSA must pay you disability benefits. Perhaps you work as a bookkeeper or accountant. You have trained for this job and have worked in this field for more than two decades. If you develop an illness or sustain an injury that prevents you from sitting for longer than a few minutes, turning your head, or lifting your hands above your waist, you would not be able to continue your current job.
Depending on the extent of your disability, the SSA might determine you are eligible for benefits, might require further proof that your disability prevents you from working, or may determine that you are young enough and/or able enough to train for a different type of work. You may need to submit evidence to the SSA that your disability limits your ability or prevents you from performing certain physical tasks like:
- Performing tasks that require manual dexterity
- Seeing or hearing
- Performing tasks requiring arms or hands
- Bending over
How Do Physical Limitations in Disability Claims Affect Disability Benefits?
The Social Security Administration determines your physical limitations in disability claims based on “residual functional capacity.” Your residual functional capacity (or RFC) describes what you can do. The SSA will determine the requirements of your job (physical, mental, and environmental), then subtract your specific limitations. Your RFC is what remains. The more limitations you have, the lower your RFC. To obtain Social Security disability benefits, the lower your RFC, the better, as a low RFC shows your disability has limited your ability to work or train for a new job.
Your ability to train for a new job will depend on your age, your education, your level of physical fitness, and your prior work experience. To this end, your RFC is extremely important. As odd as it seems, the SSA does not award benefits strictly on the basis of a disability diagnosis. You must also be able to show that your disability has directly affected your ability to perform specific work-related activities that are necessary for you to achieve “gainful” employment. Your RFC is based in part on the following levels of work:
- Sedentary work means you cannot lift more than ten pounds but can carry smaller items. A sedentary job doesn’t require significant levels of standing or lifting, requiring only that you be able to sit for long periods of time, as well as standing occasionally and walking occasionally.
- Light work means you can lift up to 20 pounds occasionally, or ten pounds frequently. You must also be able to frequently walk, stand, and bend over.
- Medium work means you can lift up to 50 pounds, and frequently lift and carry up to 25 pounds. If you can do medium work, then the SSA also determines that you could do light or sedentary work.
- Heavy work involves lifting up to 100 pounds at a time, while frequently lifting and carrying up to 50 pounds.
Your RFC also considers the mental and environmental requirements for your job. So, if the disability examiner determines you cannot continue working in your current position, they will then decide whether you are able to work in another job.
Is Pain a Functional Physical Limitation in Disability Claims?
Chronic and/or severe pain can definitely be considered a physical limitation in disability claims in the context of SSD and RFC. Chronic pain is ongoing or frequently recurring pain that continues longer than expected. Chronic pain can occur in any part of your body causing neck pain, back pain, joint pain, muscle or nerve pain, headaches, and more. Your pain could be directly related to an illness or an injury or could have no known cause. Any pain lasting longer than six months is considered chronic pain. Your actual medical diagnosis might be one of the following:
- Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD)
- Somatoform pain disorder
- Chronic regional pain syndrome
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Peripheral neuropathy
If your chronic or severe pain prevents you from working, you may qualify for SS disability benefits—so long as your medical records contain documentation of your pain. In other words, just saying you are in constant pain (no matter how severe) in and of itself does not qualify you for SS disability benefits.
How You Describe Your Pain Can Make a Difference in Whether You Obtain SSD Benefits
Your medical records don’t necessarily have to support the severity of your pain—since this is subjective and everyone experiences and reacts to pain differently. If your medical records show you have a physical impairment known to cause pain or likely to cause pain, you are one step ahead. Unfortunately, without medical records backing up your claim of chronic or severe pain, claims examiners may not take your assertion of pain seriously because it is difficult to prove. Your doctor can help the process by including your level of pain in their treatment notes and explaining the effects of pain on your overall ability to work.
That said, disability examiners must evaluate the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of your pain symptoms. They must consider how often the pain occurs, how severe the pain is, how the pain affects daily activities, what activities intensify the pain, the medications taken to control the pain, and other methods used to control pain like acupuncture, physical therapy, lying down, applying ice, etc. It is of the utmost importance that you learn how to express your level of pain, the frequency of the pain, and how it affects your work. Rather than simply saying your pain is “bad,” or “severe,” use descriptive language like “It feels like a constant jackhammer on my lower back,” “the pain feels like an electric shock,” or “the pain is stabbing and frequent.”
Be able to describe in detail how your pain prevents you from doing the work you normally do, as well as how it affects your daily life. If you are a cashier, you might describe your pain as “a severe, stabbing pain, in my lower back that prevents me from standing for longer than a few minutes. My job requires that I stand for hours at a time, yet with my chronic, severe lower back pain, I have to go into the employee’s breakroom and lay down several times per day. I am also unable to pick up my toddler or bend over to pick up anything because of the excruciating pain I experience on a daily basis.”
The way you describe your pain could have a significant impact on whether you are awarded SS disability benefits. Describe your pain to the Administrative Law Judge in a unique, authentic manner. The more you open up and express your pain, the more likely the judge will be able to relate to what you’re feeling—and approve your disability benefits.
Getting Help from Your Medical Providers for Your SSD Benefits
Because establishing your functional physical limitations in disability claims is such a crucial part of your disability claim, medical provider support is essential. SSA will look at any doctor’s opinions that can help them determine the extent and scope of your pain and other limitations. The more supportive medical statements you have, the more likely you are to qualify for SSD. Make sure your doctors are supportive of your application for SSD so you don’t have to explain to an SSD examiner or ALJ why your doctor believes you can easily lift 35 pounds and walk three miles. The best medical source statements are those written by providers who treat you in their area of expertise, which clearly state the diagnostic criteria used to arrive at their opinion of your disability.
How the Carmichael Law Group Can Help with Physical Limitations in Disability Claims
The burden is always on you, the claimant, to provide medical evidence that your condition and the symptoms and problems associated with your medical condition prevent you from working. The Carmichael Law Group will assist you in this task, from beginning to end. As a nationwide Social Security Disability law firm, you pay us nothing unless you are approved for SSD benefits. We will fight hard for your right to those benefits, from your initial application and throughout the appeals process. Client service is our primary priority—we believe you have worked hard in your life and now that you have physical issues beyond your control that prevent you from working, we want to help. Contact the Carmichael Law Group today.