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Sedentary, Light, Medium & Heavy Work – What Do These Terms Mean?

Social Security characterizes work as sedentary, light, medium and heavy.  The simplified definitions are as follows:

Sedentary: Requires the ability to sit up to six hours in an eight hour work day, lift light objects such as files and paperwork frequently during the day, and objects weighing up to 10 pounds occasionally during the day.

Light: Requires the ability to stand up to six hours in an eight hour work day, lift up to 10 pounds frequently and up to 20 pounds occasionally.

Medium: Requires the ability to stand up to six hours in an eight hour work day, lift up to 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds occasionally.

Heavy: Same standing as light and medium, lifting heavier than medium.

37 thoughts on “Sedentary, Light, Medium & Heavy Work – What Do These Terms Mean?”


  2. Hi Melodie – I am also on a list for on the record review by the end of the year = I have been waiting for a court date for 17 months and live in Florida – good luck to you

  3. I am 30% service connected from military. Will be applying for additionlal service connection (through VA) as my condition has worsened. On top of this I have my medical and job worksheet ready to file for social security disability for PTSD which my doctor deems me “permanently disabled”. This SSD appointment will be next week. Since I have not returned to work in 4 months I will be applying for Federal disability retirement as well as reopening and submitting a request that my previos OWCP claim be opened.(now that I have a doctor who deems my condtion “permanently disabled” In my 23 years of non-stop work I have never gone through so much beaurocracy. Could never imagine that when I became incapacitated that I would be needing to do all this. I can only hope and pray that my doctors diagnosis for PTSD and his conclusion (three page synopsis) get me through as well as my physical (service connected) disabilities. I advise anyone to undergo a Functional Capacity Exam which will reflect if you can/cannot do your job in accordance with DOL standards. Make sure you bring your JOB DUTIES AND REQUIRMENTS with you before the FCE. All my applications will be submitted next week. Any advise to me? Hope this helps someone.

  4. Melodie,
    All I can say is I was hoping to get a review without having to go to trial. From what I was told these paperwork reviews are usally done for a person who more then likely get disability based on documents alone. I applied for disability in Ohio in 2004 and did not get approved and get my first check until 2008. Be thankful it has only taken 1 1/2 years. Keep your chin up and good luck!!!

  5. I had my hearing recently and had just received a denial. I was lacking medical records. I have updated medical records and I plan on getting my old medical records from Pa. My question is this, does anyone win their disability cases after they have been turned down. My attorney told me that no one wins once they have been turned down by the judge. My second question is, I was listed as being able to perform light duty work. I will be submitting medical evidence that due to a hernia ,I am not able to lift more than 10 pounds. I have zero stomach muscles and my hernia will never be able to be repaired if I develop another hernia. Will the appeals court reverse their decision my ability to perform light work. My attorney said the medical records concerning my hernia would have helped my case. I feel the hernia medical records would have helped my case. What are your thoughts.

    1. Sue, I think that the hernia records would be relevant. As far as appealing, if you lose at the ALJ hearing level, you can and should look into filing an appeal with the Appeals Council. You should ask your attorney to refer you to an appellate specialist in your area. I sometimes file my own appeals to the Appeals Council but more often than not, I refer to my friend, attorney Stuart Barasch – if your attorney can’t help, you may want to give him a call.

  6. I have two ruptured lower. Bac disc. No surgery requires yet. But my doc said that my permanent restriction is 70lbs. Does thhat. Mean I’m disabled or wht?

    1. Dani, if your only limitations are a 70 pound lifting restriction, you will have an uphill battle to win Social Security disability. There are many, many jobs in the national economy that you could perform if this is your only work limitation.

  7. Got a letter after hearing from SS for appt to determine how much,they also owe me back pay for 18months what to say this will determine how much HELP!!!!!!!!

  8. I have a hearing coming up and a back injury (my lower lumbar is fused) I have DDD, along with facet joint arthritis. At my FCE I tested below sedentary, do u think this should pose an issue at my hearing?

    1. Kim, if you have an FCE (functional capacity evaluation) that shows you have less than sedentary capacity, you have a good likelihood of winning. I would make sure to discuss the work activity issues that arise from your pain as well.

  9. I have been been on long term disability( provided through the co.I was working for) for the past couple of yrs due to fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, severe migraines, cognitive impairment, & major anxiety/depression. I have applied for SSA and yesterday I got notice of my court date first of Aug.2012. Has anyone had any experience applying with fibromyalgia and/or the many debilitating conditions that come with it?

  10. i have a tibia plateau frcture on my left knee .which results in a lote of pain .and the dr has released me to sedentary with restrictions . so my lawyer had me go around to see if i could find a job i have had over 70 differnt places say that they cant hirer me due to my limations on what i can do .. do i have a good diability case?

    1. First, your condition needs to prevent you from performing a simple, entry-level, sit down type of job for 12 consecutive months. It does not matter that you did not get any job offers – the question is: if a job was made available to you, could you perform it? My thought is that you will need a treating doctor to support you by stating that as a result of pain and physical limitations you could not reliably perform any type of work and that your condition is not likely to improve for at least 12 months from the date of your accident.

  11. my orthipedic dr said he didnt think i would be able to find anybody to hire me with these limations . accident was 2-19-11 . but my doctor work for work comp and can no longer see me until after my case is settled . and i have not been able to find another doctor to see me.

  12. my doctor also said that in my release there was no more treatments were gonna help that still had moderant levels of pain and it will not get any better

  13. Just had a functional capacity test. Came back with sedentary work. Can’t walk or stand for more than 2 hours in an 8 hour period. I worked in Day cares and Nursing homes my entire life I’m 52 what are my chances at disability? Do I need a lawyer?

    1. Vicki, a couple of thoughts: first, what kind of functional capacity test did you take, and how does the test define “sedentary work?” Second, if you can perform sedentary work then, in theory, you would not be disabled for Social Security purposes….unless you fit within one of the “grid rules.” This is a case where a lawyer would be a good idea, in my opinion.

  14. Where can I get form SSA 5002 or SSA 795, it is my understanding that the forms are Report of contact forms? I don’t know. I was told that any time I have any contact with the SSA whether in person or by telephone I should request to have the CSR fill one out so when I leave the office I have proof that I was there. I have an overpayment issue. The SSA says I owe them almost $30,000. The said that my pension fom CA (California) was not taxed? and that the widow’s benefits I got were too much. I remember going to the SSA in 2008 to tell them that I was going to retire. The woman asked me about other income and I told her abt the pension, I told her I worked in a school in the cafeteria for 30yrs, my husband died and they told me that it was better for me to take the widow’s benefits because my own benefits under my record was low. SoI did what they said. Now they say I owe money. I cannot find anywhere in my papers that the SSA wrote the information I gave them abt my pension, I even took a notice to them about my CA pension. I am almost 70yrs old and I am not in good health. The SSA representatives are not listening to me. My friend told me about the forms but I do not know where to get them. Thank you kindly for any comments or help.

  15. I had back surgery in July of 2010 a laminectomy with lumbar fusion. I have six rods in my back and the Doctor broke bone spurs off my bad leg. I had being seeing him since 2007 for a small slipped disc that turned out to be Grade II to III isthmic spondylolisthesis at L5 to S1 with severeassociated foraminal stenosis and bilateral radiculitis. Degenerative disk disease L4-5 with associated facet arthropathy atL4-5. I was walking fine with some falls here and there and thats what lead me back to the Doctor in 2010. Well since the surgery I am in five times worser pain, drag my leg, walk with a cane and rollerator chair due to muscle spasms and frequent falls. My hearing before an ALJ Judge final came and he discredited the pain management Doctor I see and the Physical Function Test I had saying that I was telling these two doctors what too say and I hadn’t seen them long enough. He also lied about a few things and used somethings I said in the past in closed disablity claims I filed. I have had two EMG tests that states I have nerve damage and that no surgery would repair this in which he says I’m fine. Both doctor’s state I can only lift or carry 10 pounds and there are certain things I can’t do because of the devices to help me walk. My case is at the appeals council now. Do I have a chance at the appeals council giving me a full favorable decision.

  16. I recently had a hearing with the ALJ and my
    Bone doc said I could not even do sendary work
    And the VE said I could not do any of my past work
    And then said that I could maybe do an usher job what
    Do u think?

    1. The VE only responds to the hypothetical questions posed by the judge. Sometimes judges ask questions in an attempt to draw lines. Without knowing all the facts I can’t offer an opinion as to what the VE’s response means.

  17. Hi, I filed for disability in 2009 turned down twice, the appeal council sent my case back to judge to explain her answer I recent received a denial now am up for appeal again I suffer from depression,hearing things,aniety,diabetic and high blood pressure, it seem that my medical records are not even consider to help my case my doctor have wrote a letter saying am unable to work and wrote letter to my lawyer I do have thoughts of suscide and my doctor just increase my trazdone to 100mg any suggestion to why it’s taken so long

    1. Nada, the Social Security decision making process typically takes years. Social Security is understaffed and the system is even more bogged down with new claims, which typically increase during tough economic times. You may want to talk to your lawyer about submitted a “dire need” letter. Good luck to you.

  18. My Dr came back with work restrictions for light sedentary, I work in a call center and sit all 8 hrs. My HR person and spvrs do not know the meaning of light sedentary. I was released to come bk to work by WRKMNS COMP. I am having therapy for lower back, shoulder and head and neck injuries. I can’t sit very long and headaches and neck pain dominate my day along with the lower back pain. What is the definition of light sedentary. Thank you.

    1. Jerry, there is no such terms as “light sedentary.” Your doctor may be saying that your capacity falls somewhere in between light and sedentary but I am not aware of that term having a commonly accepted definition.

  19. Hi I’m 90% from va unemployed ability ..I also had to do a early medical retirement from the post office because of all my disability. ..I just got back my results from FCE….it said I’m qualified for less than sedentary work…do you think I have a good chance of winning ..

  20. Hi , my name is Pedro , from march 2016 till now I have medical treatment i’ got surgery in my knee and shoulder , Now my Dr qualified me with sedentary exertinal capacity ‘ they sending me back to work with restrictions and continues therapy and chiropractic treatment for neck and back injuries ‘ the question is ,Can I qualify for permanent disability benefits?

    1. I’m 39 years old , I just to do heavy work,stoker, but now i can’t carry no more than 10lb and occasional 20lb and I’m from ny

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