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Does functional capacity evaluation predict recovery in workers’ compensation claimants with upper extremity disorders?


Objectives: Functional capacity evaluations (FCEs) are commonly used to determine return-to-work readiness and guide decision making following work related injury, yet little is known of their validity. The authors examined performance on the Isernhagen Work Systems’ FCE as a predictor of timely and sustained recovery in workers’ compensation claimants with upper extremity disorders. A secondary objective was to determine whether FCE is more predictive in claimants with specific injuries (that is, fracture) as compared to less specific, pain mediated disorders (that is, myofascial pain).

Methods: The authors performed a longitudinal study of 336 claimants with upper extremity disorders undergoing FCE. FCE indicators were maximum performance during handgrip and lift testing, and the number of tasks where performance was rated below required job demands. Outcomes investigated were days receiving time-loss benefits (a surrogate of return to work or work readiness) in the year following FCE, days until claim closure, and future recurrence defined as whether benefits restarted, the claim reopened, or a new upper extremity claim was filed. Cox and logistic regression were used to determine the prognostic effect of FCE crudely and after controlling for potential confounders. Analysis was performed separately on claimants with specific and pain mediated disorders.

Results: Most subjects (95%) experienced time-loss benefit suspension within one year following FCE. The one year recurrence rate was 39%. Higher lifting performance was associated with faster benefit suspension and claim closure, but explained little variation in these outcomes (r2 = 1.2–11%). No FCE indicators were associated with future recurrence after controlling for confounders. Results were similar between specific injury and less specific groups.

Conclusions: Better FCE performance was a weak predictor of faster benefit suspension, and was unrelated to sustained recovery. FCE was no more predictive in claimants with specific pathology and injury than in those with more ambiguous, pain mediated conditions.

  • work capacity evaluation
  • arm injuries
  • recurrence
  • validity and reliability
  • disability insurance

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