Functional Capacity Evaluation

Functional Capacity Evaluation

What Is a Functional Capacity Evaluation?

A functional capacity evaluation is an objective examination used to determine an individual’s physical capabilities. These evaluations are usually used to test an person’s fitness to return to their occupation after an injury or illness.

The assessment consists of activities designed to test various physical capacities, such as push and pull power, ability to squat and kneel, and flexibility of various joints. Though the results are usually used to determine a person’s fitness to work, they can also be used for other purposes. For example, they are sometimes used to determine an individual’s eligibility for disability status.

Functional capacity evaluations can only be administered by qualified occupational and physical therapists. James Simmons, PT, owner of Yakima’s Central Washington Physical therapy, is certified to carry out these evaluations. If it is determined that a work hardening program is needed after a functional capacity evaluation, Central Washington Physical Therapy can provide the appropriate care as well.

Example Functional Capacity Evaluation Uses

  • to assess an individual’s ability to return to a job
  • to assess an individual’s ability to start a new job
  • to assess qualification for disability status
  • to assess the compatibility of an individual and a given job description
  • to determine an appropriate level of physical work for an individual
  • to provide a physician with a clear picture of their patient’s physical capacities
  • to provide a legally defensible snapshot of an individual’s physical capacities

The Evaluation

During a functional capacity evaluation, a qualified therapist administers a series of tests that the individual must perform. Most of these tests gradually increase in intensity as the therapist records relevant data, such as the amount of work performed and the patient’s pain and effort ratings. Though these test are physically strenuous, the therapist will stop them before they reach a level at which the individual’s safety is at risk.

As an example, the therapist might have the individual perform an overhead lifting test. Starting with a light weight, such as five pounds, the therapist might have them repeatedly lift the weight from a chest-level shelf to an overhead shelf. After a short break, the weight might be increased to ten pounds, then fifteen, and so on. Throughout the test, the therapist would monitor body mechanics, perceived physical strain, and the number of repetitions performed with each weight. After many such tests, the therapist can deliver a fairly comprehensive report of the individual’s overall physical abilities.


Functional capacity evaluations typically last four to six hours. Although the long duration is necessary to carry out the wide variety of tests, an added benefit is that the therapist gets an opportunity to see the individual perform under prolonged stress. This can help the therapist more accurately determine the person’s ability to function under similarly prolonged periods of stress, such as time on the job.

Example Functional Capacity Evaluation Tests

  • balancing capabilities
  • bending and squatting capabilities
  • gripping power
  • lifting power from floor
  • overhead lifting power
  • prolonged standing
  • push and pull power
  • range of motion
  • walking capabilities

As stated above, not every physical therapy clinic is equipped to administer functional capacity evaluations. In Yakima, Central Washington Physical Therapy has the qualified personnel and necessary equipment to carry out these tests. If we can help you in any way, please contact us below.