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Are functional capacity evaluations affected by the patient's pain?

Functional capacity evaluations (FCE) are comprehensive batteries of performance-based tests used commonly to inform return-to-work decisions for injured workers. As many people undergoing FCE have painful musculoskeletal conditions limiting their work ability, pain becomes a critical factor in the assessment of function. This paper considers the available literature related to the influence of pain on FCE, which clearly indicates FCEs are behavioral assessments influenced by pain intensity and other pain-related constructs. Increasing pain levels are consistently associated with reduced FCE performance levels. As such, for purposes of claims adjudication, FCE should not be considered a purely "objective" indicator of functional impairment independent of subject or evaluator perceptions. FCE may have some value for facilitating return-to-work or re-integrating chronically disabled workers into the workforce, although pain factors must be taken into consideration when making predictions about future work status. Shorter FCEs could potentially be as effective as more lengthy protocols.

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