Not at all! The Functional Capacity Exam (FCE) is an exam where a physical therapist has you do a series of movements and measures your strength and range of motion. This usually means that you have reached a medical plateau and the doctor does not expect any more significant improvement. This DOES NOT mean that your medical care is over. You may still be seeing a doctor for pain control.
Also, I always tell people if you are going to an FCE, don’t take your pain medication before the exam. I know this may be very unpleasant for some folks but this is necessary to get an accurate measurement of your true abilities; if pain medications are masking your pain during the examination, you may be completing tasks that you would not normally be able to do without a great deal of pain and discomfort. A Functional Capacity Exam is NOT the same thing as an impairment rating.
You will be observed the entire time you are at the examiner’s office, even in the waiting room. Why is this important? If your doctor says you can’t sit for more than 15 minutes and you sit in the waiting room for an hour waiting to get your FCE, your claim is already in big trouble. I tell my clients to be cautious and to ALWAYS CONDUCT YOURSELF AS IF YOU ARE BEING WATCHED!
Based on the Functional Capacity Exam results, the doctor will review the exam results and then determine your new physical abilities for rejoining the work force. Basically, if you need to be on some sort of permanent light duty, this is the test that determines what those limitations will be into the foreseeable future.
After the FCE results are known, this may also determine whether you can return to work for your former employer in your former capacity. Depending on the situation, you may be returning to your employer in a different position than before, you might be looking for work with a new employer that meets your physical abilities, or you may not be able to return to work at all. Another piece of this puzzle is, depending on the situation, you might be working with a vocational rehabilitation counselor assigned by the workers’ compensation insurance carrier to try to find you employment within the permanent work restrictions. This might be a good time to start settlement negotiations with the insurance company since you will know your physical capabilities and your medical condition should be stable at that point.
Each situation is unique. This is why I always recommend speaking with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who knows the ins and outs of this tricky process. BE AWARE – there are other “fake” tests that the examiner may use to determine if you are exaggerating the physical limitations you may have, always give your honest full effort.
Once your FCE is complete, the report has to be dictated and/or typed up by the examiner’s office and then your workers’ comp doctor has to approve the exam and the permanent restrictions set forth. Once this is done a copy of the report can be obtained. If you get an FCE report with restrictions, you need to make sure you have a very clear understanding of what these restrictions mean. If you are unclear about the restrictions or what they mean, ask for clarification from your doctor.
If you would like more information on the Virginia workers compensation system, order my book, “The Ultimate Guide to Workers Compensation in Virginia” by clicking this link, or call our office today (804) 755-7755.
~ Michele Lewane, Esquire