Physical impairments and ability to work in North Carolina disability cases

As Raleigh Social Security attorneys, we are sometimes able to obtain disability benefits for clients based solely on their medical findings. But most disability applicants in Raleigh and throughout North Carolina will need to convince the Social Security Administration that they are unable to do their former jobs and other jobs that would be appropriate considering their age, education, and experience.

To decide whether you can do any jobs, despite your impairment, the Social Security Administration determines your residual functional capacity or RFC.

What is residual functional capacity?

RFC is an assessment of the extent to which your medically determinable impairment, including any related symptoms, such as pain, causes restrictions that may affect your capacity to do work- related activities. RFC is your maximum remaining ability to do work activities on a regular and continuing basis, i.e., 8 hours a day for 5 days a week.

Your RFC assessment must be based on all of the relevant evidence in the case record, such as:

  • Medical history;
  • Medical signs and laboratory findings;
  • The effects of treatment, including limitations or restrictions imposed by the mechanics of treatment (e.g., frequency of treatment, duration, disruption to routine, side effects of medication);
  • Reports of daily activities;
  • Lay evidence;
  • Recorded observations;
  • Medical source statements from your treating doctors;
  • Effects of symptoms, including pain, that are reasonably attributed to a medically determinable impairment;
  • Evidence from attempts to work;
  • Need for a structured living environment; and
  • Work evaluations, if available.

How Social Security evaluates your exertional limitations in your Raleigh North Carolina disability claim

In assessing your RFC, North Carolina Social Security decision makers first look at your exertional limitations. Exertional limitations are limitations of physical strength. They define your remaining abilities to perform each of seven strength demands: sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying, pushing, and pulling. These restrictions are classified from the highest or least restricted RFC to the lowest or most restricted as:

  • The ability to do medium work. Medium work involves lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. Medium work requires standing or walking for a total of approximately 6 hours in an 8-hour workday.
  • The ability to do light work. Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Light work requires standing or walking for a total of approximately 6 hours of an 8-hour workday. A job is classified as light if it requires a significant amount of walking or standing—the primary difference between sedentary and most light jobs.
  • The ability to do sedentary work. Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying small articles. Sedentary jobs may require occasional standing and walking, but the actual periods of standing or walking should generally total no more than about 2 hours of an 8-hour workday. Most unskilled sedentary jobs require good use of the hands and fingers for repetitive hand-finger actions.

Application of Medical Vocational Guidelines to your Raleigh North Carolina disability case

After the North Carolina Social Security decision makers determine your exertional residual functional capacity, they look at the Medical Vocational Guidelines or grids. The grids are comprised of three charts that determine whether you are disabled for different combinations of RFC, age, education, and work experience.

The idea behind the grids is that the younger and better educated a person is and the more work experience the person has, the more easily he or she can adapt to a new job despite a medical impairment. As a general rule, to be disabled under the grids, a claimant under 50 must be unable to do even a sedentary job. A claimant between ages 50 and 54 must be unable to do light work, and a claimant aged 55 or older must be unable to do medium work.

Raleigh Social Security decision makers also consider non-exertional limitations

If you are not disabled under the grids, Social Security Administration decision makers next consider the disabling effects of any non-exertional limitations you may have. Non-exertional limitations include:

  • Limits on your ability to bend, stoop, climb, balance, kneel, crouch, and crawl.
  • Limits on your ability to use your hands to reach, handle, finger, and feel.
  • Limits on your ability to see objects up close, and at a distance, and on your depth perception, peripheral vision, and color vision.
  • Limits on your ability to hear and speak.
  • Restrictions on your exposure to heat, cold, humidity, noise, vibrations, and odors.
  • Limits on your ability to remember, concentrate, interact with others, and adapt to change. See Mental Impairments and Ability to Work.

Your testimony about residual functional capacity at your Raleigh North Carolina disability hearing

If your initial application is denied, your Raleigh Social Security attorney may decide that Social Security decision makers did not properly evaluate your RFC. At your disability hearing, your social security attorney or the administrative law judge will need to ask you some questions to help the judge appreciate how restricted your ability to work really is. Depending on the nature of your limitations, you can expect questions in the following areas about your exertional limitations:


— Do you have problems standing?
— How long can you stand?
— Provide some examples of your standing limitations.


— Do you have problems walking?
— Do you need a cane or walker?
— Can you walk at normal speed?
— How long or far can you walk?
— Do you have problems with balance?
— Provide some examples of your walking limitations

Lifting and carrying

— Do you have any problems lifting and carrying?
— How much can you lift and carry?
— How do you lift and carry the heaviest items of your daily life?
— What happens after you lift and carry the heaviest items?


— Do you have any problems with sitting?
— Does pain limit your ability to sit?
— Do you need to elevate your legs when sitting?
— For how long can you sit?
— Provide some examples of your sitting limitations?

Alternating sitting, standing, and walking

— Must you alternate periods of sitting with periods of walking?
— Must you alternate periods of sitting with standing?

If you have non-exertional limitations, your North Carolina Social Security attorney will ask similar questions about them. And if you have a mental disorder, see Mental Impairments and Ability to Work for additional questions you may be asked at your North Carolina disability hearing.

Experienced Raleigh Social Security attorneys offer help

We are available to answer any questions you may have about Social Security disability determinations in North Carolina. If you are not already represented by a Raleigh Social Security attorney and want our evaluation, give us a brief description of your claim using the form to the right. Or you may e-mail or call our disability law firm at:

A Social Security Disability Lawyer & Associates
Raleigh North Carolina disability lawyers
Offices in Raleigh, Fayetteville, Dunn & Clinton, North Carolina

Toll-free: Our SSD Phone Number
Email us

Raleigh Office:
Our Raleigh Location
Raleigh, North Carolina 27604
Phone: Our SSD Phone Number
Fax:Our Raleigh Fax Number

Dunn Office:
Our Dunn Location
Dunn, North Carolina 28335
Phone: Our SSD Phone Number
Fax:Our Dunn Fax Number

Fayetteville Office:
Our Fayetteville Location
Suite 102
Fayetteville, North Carolina 2831
Phone: Our SSD Phone Number


We accept SSI and Social Security disability cases at all stages including pre-and post-application, reconsideration, hearing, Appeals Council, and federal court. If you live in North Carolina, please answer the questions below if you would like us to review your case.

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