• Justin S. Raines

What is a disability claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC)?

Updated: May 15, 2021


When applying for disability benefits, if you don’t meet or medically equal a listing at step three of the five-step sequential analysis, then it’s time to move to the unwritten step in the five-step sequential analysis. It’s time to determine a person’s residual functional capacity (RFC), which is necessary before moving to steps four and five.

RFC is a function-by-function assessment of the most a person can do despite their impairments on a regular and continuing basis. Social Security rulings define regular and continuing basis as roughly eight hours a day, forty hours a week, or an equivalent work schedule.

This is one of the most important and detailed assessments in the entire disability process. Does a claimant have trouble with mental functioning like concentrating, persisting at tasks, or getting along with coworkers, supervisors, or the public? Does the claimant have physical limitations standing, walking, sitting, or lifting? Does the claimant have sensory limitations like trouble seeing or hearing? Does the claimant have environmental limitations like the need to avoid heat, cold, or vibrations? Does the claimant have some combination of physical and mental limitations? Or does the claimant have physical limitations alone or mental limitations alone?


A claimant’s limitations can be documented in their medical records, discovered in their daily activities, and drawn out in testimony.

Every disability case is different, and it takes a skilled attorney to explore and point out all a claimant’s limitations. And every limitation is important because any one limitation can be the difference between winning or losing at steps four and five, discussed in the next post.

If you have a severe physical or mental illness or injury, you should consult with an attorney experienced in Social Security disability for help and advice proving your case.

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