A Functional Capacity Exam (or “FCE”) is an exam that is used to determine an injured workers’ physical abilities and permanent work restrictions.  The FCE is typically administered by a physical therapist and will consist of several smaller tests (example: they may ask you to bend over and touch your toes, climb a ladder, pick up different amounts of weight, or push or pull an object).  BE AWARE – there are other “fake” tests that the examiner may use to determine if you are exaggerating the physical limitations you may have, so always give your honest full effort.

An FCE can serve two purposes:

  • It can show what an injured workers’ physical capabilities are to allow the physical therapist to determine what work restrictions are needed to make recommendations to the treating physician.
  • It allows the physical therapist to determine your impairment rating to be approved by the treating physician.

Normally, a FCE should not be performed until the injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI means the injured worker has gotten as good as he or she is going to get. An impairment rating is not valid until the injured worker has reached MMI and any physical restrictions cannot be considered permanent until the injured worker has reached MMI. However, some doctors will order them before MMI is reached to ensure that physical restrictions are valid.

Do I Need to Go to My FCE If I Feel Like I Need More Treatment?

This is a confusing thing for injured workers.  The answer is YES!!! You absolutely should go. This does not mean that you are done seeing the doctor, nor does it mean that your case if over.  It simply means that you have reached a point where the doctor believes it is appropriate for you to have your level of physical ability measured. This is also the time that, if necessary, the medical examiner can give you a rating on your loss of use (also called Permanent Partial Disability or PPD).

As a side note, one other BIG reason you should go to the exam is, if the insurance carrier is going to cover the cost of the exam and you refuse to go, they could claim that you are not cooperating with the doctor’s treatment plan and stop your workers compensation benefits! Trust me folks, you don’t want to be in that situation!

Be Aware That You Will Be Observed

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!

Keep in Mind These Tips Before and During Your FCE

Don’t take your pain medication before your exam! I know this sounds scary and can be extremely uncomfortable, but I say this for good reason. Forgoing your pain medication on the day of the exam 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 FCE is NOT the same thing as an impairment rating.

What Happens After the FCE Is Complete?

Once your FCE is complete, the report has to be dictated and/or typed up by the examiner’s office, and then your workers’ compensation doctor has to approve the exam and the permanent restrictions set forth. Once this is done, a copy of the report can be obtained.

The report 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.

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, you should immediately ask for clarification from your doctor.

After My FCE, Is My Claim Over?

Getting a FCE does not necessarily mean that your workers’ compensation claim is over. However, depending on the outcome of your exam, it can be a big turning point for your claim.  If you need guidance on what to do next, contact an experienced lawyer who can advise you of your options.