Pain and Your Residual Functional Capacity

April 19,2016
imgpsh_fullsize (15)

Are you applying for Social Security in New Rochelle or surrounding areas?  Or has your claim already been denied?  The Hermann Law Group would like to help you get your disability benefits.

Too often deserving claimants are turned down because New York Disability Determination Services (DDS), the state agency that makes disability determinations for the Social Security Administration, incorrectly assesses their ability to work (or residual functional capacity) or discounts legitimate complaints of pain.


What is Residual Functional Capacity?

SSA defines residual functional capacity (RFC) as “the most you can still do despite your [physical and mental] limitations” caused by your impairments and related symptoms, such as pain.  The SSA recognizes that your limitations can affect what you can do in a work setting to the point where you cannot productively function.


What Does the DDS Look at to Assess Residual Functional Capacity?

DDS will take into consideration all of your impairments, including those that are not “severe” if taken individually.  The DDS claims examiner and/or medical consultant, who reviews your medical eligibility for benefits, will review your medical evidence (medical records, your doctor’s report, the independent medical expert’s opinion) and other evidence (e.g. witness statements, your employment records).

Unfortunately, claims examiners sometimes fail or are unable to obtain complete medical records.  Other times, they fail to consider a claimant’s other, less severe or debilitating impairments when determining disability.  An experienced social security disability attorney will be sure to include all your impairments and symptoms in your application for disability benefits since the cumulative symptoms caused by all of your impairments could prevent you from working.


How Does the SSA Assess Residual Functional Capacity?

The DDS claims examiner will consider your ability to meet the physical, mental, sensory and other requirements of work to determine whether you can perform your past work or other suitable work considering your age, education, and experience.


Physical Abilities

The DDS claims examiner will first assess the nature and extent of your physical limitations, such as:

  • How long you can sit or stand in conjunction with your need to shift positions.
  • How far you can walk without taking a break.
  • How much weight you can carry, lift, push or pull.
  • How high you can reach.
  • How low you can stoop or crouch.

Restrictions in any or all of these areas can reduce your ability to perform your duties.


Mental Abilities

The claims examiner will then assess the nature and extent of your mental limitations, such as:

  • Ability to understand.
  • Ability to remember.
  • Ability to carry out instructions.
  • Ability to respond appropriately to your supervisor, co-workers, clients, etc.
  • Ability to respond appropriately to work pressures in a work setting.

Restrictions in any or all of these areas can reduce your ability to work on a continuing and regular basis.


How Does Pain Affect My RFC Evaluation?

Unfortunately, since pain is subjective and difficult to prove, the claims examiner may not put much credence on your claims of pain.  Thus, if you claim you have lower back pain that prevents you from sitting, standing or walking for a long time; bending; or lifting; but you are not on pain medication or you received minimal treatment for lower back pain, most likely the claims examiner will believe you are exaggerating your pain.  Adding another layer of complexity, your treating physician may poorly reference your pain level in his or her treatment notes or inadequately infer the effects your pain may have on your ability to engage in normal activity.

Medical examiners who work with the SSA will review your medical records but will not conduct their own physical examination of you.  The medical examiner will base his or her decision on your medical records even if they are inadequate or incomplete.

Federal courts have frequently held that the SSA must evaluate the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of your pain on your ability to perform basic work activities.  The following are factors that the claims examiner should consider:

  • Location, duration, frequency and intensity of your pain.
  • How your pain affects your daily activities.
  • What factors precipitate and aggravate your pain.
  • The type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of medication you take to alleviate your pain.
  • Other treatments you undergo to relieve your pain, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy or other alternative treatments.
  • Other ways you relieve your pain, such as lying down, applying ice, propping up your limbs, etc.

If you have multiple impairments, but no single impairment taken alone could be considered disabling, the SSA must consider the totality of your impairments.  For example, if you have chronic headaches that give you moderate pain, were diagnosed with osteoarthritis that also gives you moderate joint pain, and you suffer from moderate to severe depression, the SSA will consider all of your symptoms and how your symptoms affect you.  Your chronic headache and/or frequent joint pains may increase your depressive state making it more difficult for you to concentrate on your tasks.  The SSA will take the limiting effects caused by your all symptoms and impairments into account when assessing your RFC and then determine whether you can perform your past work or other work.


What Can I Do To Prove My Pain?

Our Social Security disability lawyers suggest doing the following to show the claims examiner that you are not exaggerating your pain.

  • Seek medical treatment – what you are actively doing to alleviate your pain shows how much the pain bothers you. If you are not actively seeking or receiving treatment, it infers that you are able to cope with your pain and it is not severe.
  • Report to your treating physician – report your pain level to your doctor and any limitations or activities that exacerbate your symptoms.
  • Keep a diary – record the timing, frequency, duration, and intensity of your pain, even if the pain level was moderate or less. Indicate how you alleviated your pain.  You may also note what you were doing when the pain occurred or whether the pain was subtly increasing in intensity.  Note whether you needed to take medication, leave work, stop what you were doing, or had to seek medical attention.
  • Follow your doctor’s orders – if your doctor indicates that you cannot lift a certain weight, don’t lift more than that weight. If your doctor limits your activity, follow his or her orders.


Contact us

If you cannot work because of your medical condition, get help from our Social Security disability lawyers.  We will:

  • Review your medical and employment records and obtain any missing records for SSA review.
  • Work with your doctor to obtain a report detailing your medical history, treatment, tests results, findings, diagnosis, prognosis, and functional limitations.
  • Obtain statements from co-workers, employers, friends, and family as appropriate regarding your pain and other symptoms caused by your condition and how they affect your daily and work life.
  • Assist in preparing your initial application or your appeal.
  • Represent you at your Social Security disability hearing, if your case requires a hearing.

If you would like to speak with a disability attorney at the Hermann Law Group about your claim for Social Security in New Rochelle or elsewhere in the New York metropolitan area, call 877-773-3030.