What is a Functional Capacity Evaluation?

Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) is a comprehensive battery of performance-based tests commonly used to determine the ability for work, activities of daily living, or leisure activities. The need for functional evaluation was identified in the 1980s by workers’ compensation systems that required specific information about worker functional capacities and limitations to expedite the return-to-work process. Historically, return-to-work decisions were based upon diagnoses and prognoses of physicians but did not include objective measurements of worker functional abilities and job match demands. Physical therapists, whose core competencies include functional evaluation, began to develop functional capacity tests for comparison to the physical demands of jobs and occupations. These functional tests initially examined and evaluated the ability of a worker to perform physical job match conditions as described by the US Department of Labor in Selected Characteristics of Occupations as Defined in the Revised Dictionary of Occupational Titles and The Revised Handbook for Analyzing Jobs. Functional examination evaluation, combined with diagnoses and prognoses by physical therapists has emerged as a valid and effective tool to support a safe return to work, activities of daily living or leisure activities after an injury or illness.

The Functional Capacity Evaluation today quantifies safe functional abilities and is a pivotal resource for:

  • Return-to-work and job-placement decisions
  • Disability evaluation
  • Determination of how non-work-related illness and injuries impact work performance
  • Determination of functioning in non-occupational setting
  • Intervention and treatment planning
  • Case management and case closure

Source: American Physical Therapy Association. Occupational Health Physical Therapy: Evaluating Functional Capacity Guidelines.