functional capacity evaluation by physical therapist

What You Need to Know Before Going to a Functional Capacity Evaluation “FCE”

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Why are you being referred for an FCE?

As you approach maximum medical improvement from your work-related injury, your authorized treating physician may order a Functional Capacity Evaluation or “FCE”.  The purpose of the FCE is to determine what your physical abilities and limitations are.  Your treating physician needs to ultimately make an assessment regarding whether you can return to your pre-injury job.

What can you expect during the evaluation and how important are the results?

The FCE evaluator is typically a physical therapist.   You will be asked to perform a series of exercises so that the evaluator can assess your physical abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.  The evaluation typically lasts a few hours.  At the conclusion of the evaluation, the evaluator will prepare a written report with recommended permanent work restrictions. 

What can you expect the FCE report to include?

The report will outline what your work abilities are and whether you have any permanent work restrictions. Photos are often taken of you performing various tasks during the course of the evaluation. The evaluator will ultimately determine what category of work you can safely perform within job guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Labor.  The work classifications are as follows: below sedentary, sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy.  The evaluator will give his or her recommendations regarding whether you have the ability to return to your pre-injury job (depending on what classification it falls into) or whether you are only able to meet the criteria for a less physically demanding job.  Often your pre-injury job description is supplied to the evaluator by the employer/insurer before the evaluation takes place.

What does an evaluator look for in the FCE?

The most important thing an evaluator looks for in an FCE is whether the injured worker gave maximum effort throughout the testing.  If a maximum effort is not given, the results are considered inconclusive. After determining whether the maximum effort is being given, the evaluator will assess your ability to sit, stand, squat, bend, crawl, climb stairs, lift and carry items of various weights, or do repetitive work.

How much importance does your treating physician place on the FCE report?

Most treating physicians place a great deal of weight on the FCE results and will adopt the restrictions recommended by the evaluator as your permanent work restrictions.  However, it is significant to note that your authorized treating physician has the right to disagree with the FCE evaluator.  Your treating physician may add or decide against some of the permanent work restrictions recommended by the evaluator.

How can you prepare for an FCE?

No preparation is necessary for an FCE.  The critical point to keep in mind is to give your best effort, don’t exaggerate your complaints, but don’t try to be “Superman” or “Superwoman: to impress the evaluator.  Attempt every exercise the evaluator asks you to perform, but let the evaluator know if you are having difficulty performing the exercises.  Some evaluators will monitor your heart rate so they will be able to see if you are having difficulty physically performing an exercise.  This also enables the evaluator to determine whether you have given maximum effort.