Medically reviewed by Misty Seidenburg
If an injury is keeping you from working, you may be wondering if and when you can return. It’s important to determine your current ability to perform work-related tasks and other activities that could slow or complicate your recovery.
A functional capacity evaluation (FCE) is a standard assessment that measures your physical abilities in relation to your typical job tasks to evaluate if and when you can resume working. Here, we explain why FCEs are ordered and what to expect from your own evaluation.
Workers who become injured on the job may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits under the law. And while most states require employers of a certain size to provide workers’ compensation insurance, business owners (and their carriers) must approve claims before benefits are paid out.
However, employers and insurance companies are not qualified to make medical assessments. For that reason, physical evaluations are required to confirm the worker’s injuries, and determine how their condition impacts their ability to perform their job.
An FCE can be used (1) at the onset of an injury to assess how it impacts their work, and (2) further along in their recovery to record their progress as it relates to their job tasks.
Exact guidelines vary from state to state. Workers’ compensation benefits are classified based on the extent of disability and the prognosis for rehabilitation. An FCE provides objective measurements of physical capacity that may be used during this time.
These categories include:
The amount and duration of workers’ compensation benefits are assigned based on these disability classifications. FCE is used to assess disability as it relates to the injured worker’s job tasks.
FCEs are especially useful for assessing musculoskeletal impairments, movement and balance disorders, and other conditions that cause pain, fatigue, weakness, numbness, and/or poor dexterity. These include low back injuries, sprains, strains, and crush injuries, to name a few.
Generally, FCEs are requested by a physician to assist in determination of return to work status:
It is also possible for an injured worker to self-refer to request a FCE on their own, but this may not be covered by insurance. In that case, the worker must pay out-of-pocket. Contact your health insurance provider and your physical therapy clinic to determine your coverage.
Typically, licensed physical therapists or occupational therapists perform FCEs. Although there are several variations on FCEs, it’s important to choose a clinic offering standardized, evidence-based assessments to produce objective results that are defensible in court.
If you have an upcoming FCE, you are probably wondering what is involved and how to make the most of your .
Vital signs like your temperature and pulse play a role in your ability to perform an FCE. For that reason, it’s beneficial to get plenty of sleep, take prescribed medications, and avoid large doses of caffeine in the hours and days leading up to your appointment.
It’s best to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and athletic shoes since you will be performing physical tests. Also, dress in layers in case you get warm or chilly at any point. If you use assistive devices like a brace, cane, crutches, or walker, bring those with you.
It’s helpful to provide your medical records along with information about your employment, such as a job description for your physical or occupational therapist. If an attorney is overseeing your disability claim, they can send this documentation to your physical therapy clinic on your behalf.
The therapist will ask questions to get a good understanding of your diagnosis and symptoms. Expect them to ask you about your job and the tasks you typically performed prior to your injury.
Next, the physical evaluation begins. Your therapist uses different maneuvers, tools, and equipment to measure various physical functions, including:
It’s important to tell your therapist if you have pain, dizziness, or fatigue at any point. Tell them if you cannot complete any tests. These details are essential, and will be recorded and used to assess your abilities. Your FCE can take anywhere from half a day to a full day, or even several days. This will depend on your individual condition and the extent of assessment required.
Once your FCE is complete, the results are compiled in a written report and sent to whoever requested them, whether that is an employer, attorney, or insurance adjuster. Your FCE is an important part of the decision making process used to determine if you can safely perform your job duties and return to work, return to work with restrictions or accommodations, or cannot return to work at this time.
If you need to schedule an FCE for a recent work injury or workers’ compensation claim, find a physical therapy clinic near you.