What is a functional capacity assessment

A functional capacity assessment or evaluation (FCE) is a test that assesses how well a particular organ system is working. Thus, any stress test (cardiac, pulmonary, heat tolerance) is a functional capacity assessment. On a more global level, an FCE measures the body as a whole and determines how much work a person is capable of doing. This concept, the idea of testing how much work a person is able to perform, was derived from work performed by ergonomists and physical therapists.

When used as a descriptive phrase, an FCE describes a test of work capacity. It must be appreciated that testing for a person's ability to work assesses many organ systems at one time. Generally, it is assumed that organ systems such as the cardiac, pulmonary, and neurologic systems are functioning normally. However, dysfunction in any other organ systems is a sufficient cause for an abnormal FCE.

Most FCEs assess the ability to work. There are many components to this test, and it is common for an FCE to take 4 to 6 hours. Tests that take 2 or 3 days to perform are not unusual. The end result is a list of body regions and both the maximum and the sustainable levels of physical exertion that the examinee is capable of performing in each body region. For example, the test will describe how much weight can be lifted, how many times it can be lifted, or for how long the examinee can perform the activities. The results can be linked to the specifics of a job. For example, if a person is capable of lifting, on a sustained basis, only 20 pounds (although on a rare basis he is capable of lifting as much as 50 pounds) and the job entails lifting 60 to 80 pounds on a frequent basis, one might conclude that he is not fit or qualified for the job. While this type of evaluation might seem ideal when determining if a person is able to do a job (for a new hire) or return to his or her normal job (for a recently injured individual who is deemed to have attained MMI), it must always be remembered these types of tests only measure how much the examinee is willing to do, not necessarily how much he or she can do.

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