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Nonexertional Limitations

by | Mar 31, 2022 | SSD - Social Security Disability Process And Benefits |

Many people recognize that a disability can impose exertional restrictions on performing physical activities at work. However, the inability to work does not just depend on exertional limitations. A medical impairment or combination of impairments can also affect one’s nonexertional capacity in a work setting. These nonexertional limitations can be mental, communicative, postural-manipulative, visual, or environmental in nature.[1]

A mental impairment affecting the ability to understand, remember, and carry out instructions, for example, could restrict the types of work an individual can perform. SSA categorizes work as skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled. Unskilled work requires little or no judgement to perform simple, routine tasks that can be learned on the job in a short period of time (30 days or less).  Semi-skilled work may require alertness and close attention to detail but does not require complex tasks or instructions.  Skilled work requires good judgment to perform complex tasks or deal with people, facts or figures, or abstract ideas.[2]  A mental impairment such as anxiety or agoraphobia could also affect the ability to communicate with the public and coworkers, as could hearing and speech impairments.

A disability claim must also factor in postural limitations on climbing, kneeling, stooping (bending the spine at the waist), crouching (bending at the legs and spine), and crawling.[3] Likewise, the use of arms and hands to perform fine and gross manipulations must also be considered, as most unskilled sedentary jobs require good use of the hands and fingers for repetitive actions.[4]

Further, certain jobs require sufficient visual acuity to handle small objects, read small print, and avoid workplace hazards such as dangerous moving machinery.  Concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants, extreme temperatures, uneven terrain, or artificial lighting may also weigh in as environmental limitations.

Establishing nonexertional limitations, in combination with exertional limitations, can be crucial in proving a disability claim.

[1] SSR 85-15, SSR 96-9p

[2] CFR § 404.1568

[3] SSR 83-14

[4] SSR 83-10, SSR 85-15


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