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What is a functional capacity evaluation (FCE)?

If your doctor wants guidance in assessing your accident injury for a permanent impairment rating, he might send you for an FCE.

Generally, it’s an exhaustive set of physical tests, usually given and scored by a physical therapist. Here’s what you need to know about FCEs.

Why FCEs Are Important

The doctor uses the results to give a more accurate rating, which can have a big impact on your case. We see them more often in South Carolina workers’ comp cases, where the results can help determine if you’re eligible for extra financial benefits for permanent and total disability and wage loss.

FCE Purpose From the Examiner’s Standpoint

There are generally three main purposes for the tester:

  • Evaluate your ability to perform your job. The evaluator often has a copy of your job description from your employer.
  • Define the physical level of work you qualify for under United States Department of Labor guidelines. Those provide 5 physical job demand categories: sitting, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy.
  • Measure your loss of strength and motion from an injury.

Before moving on to the specific aspects of the test, there’s one vital thing you’ve got to remember.

Your Effort Counts—a Lot!

Exerting good effort is vital. These tests have built-in “lie detectors” that’ll expose deceptively low effort by you. Don’t try it. You’ll be smoked out, and it’ll ruin your case.

Now let’s turn to the tests and info used for the evaluation.

Physical Abilities Tests

The evaluator will test your ability to do the following, noting the maximum amount you can do:

  • Lift from floor to shoulder, waist to shoulder, and a few inches off the floor to your waist.
  • Carry.
  • Push and pull.
  • Basic motions including how much you can sit, stand, and walk (and whether you limp), climb stairs and ladders, reach overhead, and bend your knees to stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
  • Hand strength and coordination—you’ll be evaluated on your ability to handle objects and grasp with each hand.

Musculoskeletal Testing

This evaluates for things like:

  • Whether you limp.
  • Your posture and whether you can stand upright.
  • Muscle tone—the tests measure tightness, tenderness, and muscle spasm.
  • Joint and muscle flexibility.
  • Range of motion and whether your ability to move your joints falls within normal limits.
  • Strength.
  • Reflexes.

Endurance Testing

You might even do a treadmill test. This checks your ability to walk for time and distance. The evaluator observes your posture and ability to walk without a limp. The test measures how long you’re able to do the task before it hurts too much or you run out of breath or energy.

You Get to Provide Some Input of Your Own

The evaluator also interviews you about important points in your injury like:

It’s Just Another Piece of the Puzzle

With the exception of living with a permanent injury from an accident, your FCE may be the most difficult physical part of your case. But it’s only part of the challenge you face. If you’re severely injured enough to require an FCE, there’s a lot at stake for you legally too. Just as you got doctors to protect your body medically, it’s time to ask a lawyer about protecting your rights legally. You only get one chance at your case, so don’t risk ending it with regrets.

If you’ve got questions about your case, feel free to start a live chat right where you are so an experienced attorney can respond to your concerns.


Rob Usry
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Rob is a Spartanburg personal injury lawyer. Rob also practices as a criminal defense attorney.