What is a Functional Capacity Exam?

A Functional Capacity Exam (FCE) is a test to determine the physical and/or mental ability of someone who has sustained an injury to return to gainful employment. Objectively quantifying the severity and extent of a catastrophic injury is vital when filing a claim. A Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) can be an integral part of this process as it evaluates an individual’s capacity to perform work-related activities and functions. There are two types of FCE used by the United States Social Security Administration: the Physical Functional Capacity Evaluation (PFCE) that measures physical functionality, and the Mental Functional Capacity Evaluation (MFCE) that measures cognitive functionality. Today, most occupational therapists and vocational rehabilitation specialists are qualified to perform and evaluate a FCE.

Components of a FCE

functional capacity examAccording to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), “A well-designed FCE should consist of a battery of standardized assessments that offers results in performance-based measures and demonstrates predictive value about the individual’s return to work.”

A FCE typically begins with a client interview, an evaluation of medical records and a musculoskeletal screening. Functions that are evaluated during a FCE include:

  • Flexibility
  • Hand Coordination
  • Lifting Ability
  • Physical Strength
  • Pain Monitoring
  • Range of Motion

Functional testing is used to evaluate specific activities that the client previously performed. From positional tolerance to handling abilities, any time an individual needs to evaluate their physical or cognitive capacity, a FCE can be useful. The series of tests included in a FCE may include:

  • Cognitive tests
  • Dexterity tests
  • Walking on a treadmill
  • Handling or manipulating objects
  • Lifting weights

Do I need a Functional Capacity Exam?

When an individual sustains a catastrophic injury, there are many things that must be considered. When a catastrophic injury is the result of an on-the-job accident, the situation becomes much more complex. This is because the state of Texas does not require employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance, making it difficult to recover damages for lost wages, medical bills and more in some cases.

Even where there is worker’s compensation or other insurance, they may attempt to place you at MMI to cut off future medical care before you are physically ready to return to work. A functional capacity exam can help you prove that you need additional rehab such as work hardening in order to return to gainful employment.

The series of tests chosen for a FCE are determined based on the accident that caused the client to initially seek medical treatment. For example, if you were involved in a work-related accident and your job required you to lift heavy boxes, a well-designed FCE will objectively evaluate your ability to continue lifting heavy boxes following the accident. If you or a loved one has been injured due to the negligence of others, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you navigate the recovery process. For more information call (713) 932-0777 today.


Paul Cannon

Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.