Range of Motion in VA Disability Claims

The VA Schedule of Rating Disabilities provides a basis for service connection and rating each disability. The Schedule of Ratings lists disabilities under different categories based on the part of the body affected. Under each category is a list of diagnostic codes, representing common disabilities of that body part.

Schedule of Ratings

The Schedule of Ratings for the musculoskeletal system is found at 38 C.F.R § 4.71a, and it contains numerous subcategories. Many musculoskeletal conditions are rated based on the range of motion, a mostly testable measure of how much loss of function the disability causes. The Schedule of Ratings expresses the range of motion in degrees and provides charts to help assist with understanding what those degrees mean. For instance, the following chart accompanies the Schedule of Ratings for ankle, knee, and hip disabilities:

Each subcategory under the Rating Schedule includes numerous diagnostic codes, which represent specific disabilities. For instance, under the subcategory for “The Knee and Leg,” there are eight diagnostic codes:

  • Ankylosis of the knee
  • Other impairment of the knee
  • Cartilage damage with locking
  • Cartilage removal
  • Limitation of flexion
  • Limitation of extension
  • Impairment of the tibia and fibula
  • Genu recurvatum

Several of these disabilities are rated based on degree of motion, but we will look specifically at limitation of extension for an example.

Limitation of Extension and Range of Motion

Limitation of extension for the knee is rated under diagnostic code 5261. There are six different ratings, from 0% to 50%, listed as follows:

  • Extension limited to 45 degrees: 50
  • Extension limited to 30 degrees: 40
  • Extension limited to 20 degrees: 30
  • Extension limited to 15 degrees: 20
  • Extension limited to 10 degrees: 10
  • Extension limited to 5 degrees: 0

As the chart above shows, extending the knee straight out, parallel to the ground, is a 0 degree extension. From there, it is easy to see where each degree listed in the diagnostic code lies. A doctor or medical professional should measure the extension in a C&P examination and express the extension in degrees for rating purposes.

Understanding How Flare Ups Impact Range of Motion Claims

As anybody with musculoskeletal problems will know, the range of motion may vary from day to day. A veteran might wake up in the morning unable to touch their toes, then as their joints warm up, they might have a larger degree of motion.  Alternatively, they might suffer from more stiffness and range of motion loss from use or from random flare-ups. What if the veteran goes to the C&P examination on the best day of their life and the doctor thinks they can always extend their knee almost all the way?

C&P examiners are supposed to ask about both repetitive motion and flare-ups for musculoskeletal conditions. Most of the time, they should also test repetitive motion to see if there is a higher degree of functional loss afterwards. For flare-ups, the examiner should ask whether the veteran suffers from flare-ups and ask the veteran to describe their functional loss as a result. This can be difficult, because the symptoms limiting functional loss are not usually related to range of motion. The joint might be hard to walk on, extremely painful, etc. It is important to try to remember everything when the examiner asks about flare-ups, as it may result in a more accurate VA disability benefit.

VA Disability Lawyers

If you are a veteran with a service connected disability that limits your range of motion, you are entitled to disability compensation. The experienced VA disability attorneys on our team understand how VA claims work and are dedicated to helping veterans get the compensation they are entitled to. If you have a disability claim with the VA that you would like to appeal, please contact our team at (888) 883-2483 to schedule a free case evaluation.