How Social Security determines if your impairment is disabling

There are very few conditions that are considered disabling with just a diagnosis. The majority of impairments are evaluated by determining if they cause functional impairment which meets specific rules or which would be significant enough to preclude an individual from engaging in full time employment.


  • Functional Impairments

A functional impairment is a physical or mental limitation which results from an illness, impairment or medical condition. For example, a person with spine or back impairments may have functional impairment in their ability to sit, stand, walk, lift or carry items. They may also have chronic pain which results in difficulty with maintaining attention, concentration or an effective work pace.

  • Psychological Impairments

A person with depression or anxiety may have functional impairment in their ability to understand, remember and carry out instructions, interact with others, accept instructions or criticism in the workplace, make judgements on work related matters, respond to changes in the work setting, or be aware of ordinary hazards and take precautions.

  • Disability Benefits Entitlement

When determining if an individual is entitled to disability benefits, the Social Security Administration will evaluate the diagnoses and conditions documented in your medical records in conjunction with the functional limitations that result from those diagnoses and conditions and determine your work or functional capacity.

  • Residual Functional Capacities

Work capacities are called “residual functional capacities” and refer to what you are still able to do in a workplace despite your medical conditions. A functional capacity will include an assessment of how long a person can sit, stand and walk as well as the amount of time they may be able to use their upper extremities to reach in front and overhead, handle large and small items and push and pull.  It will also evaluate any mental impairments that would have an impact on work capacity.


For a complete listing of impairments according to Social Security, click here and here. If you are seeking disability benefits, it is important that your medical records document any difficulties that you would have performing these basic work functions.

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