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  • October 1st, 2012

Avoiding Injury While Raking Leaves

Autumn has arrived and who doesn’t revel in the change of the seasons? Cooler days, colorful foliage, long sleeves and jackets, hot cider, football, and of course..the yard work!

Some may view it as a chore…especially if you have neither kids nor grand-kids to remind you of the simple joys to be found by jumping in a pile of leaves!

In our area, October is prime leaf-raking season. Leaf raking is a glorious way to spend one of those crisp Saturday afternoons. And while leaf raking is one of the hallmarks of fall activities, sadly, it’s also one of the most common ways to hurt your back this season. Cleaning up after the celebrating of of that fall foliage can easily lead to sprains, strains and subluxations.

To avoid that fate, follow these easy tips the next time you head out to rake:

Warm-up: Leaf raking is a form of exercise; and like any exercise activity, you should make sure that your muscles are ready for the work out. You should think especially about lightly stretching the muscles that support the low back and of course, any muscle involved in the actual raking (arms, shoulders).

Here are some easy stretches you can do for your low back to prepare for leaf raking.  Just take 5 minutes and get your body ready.

Posture: Staying hunched over while raking is simply not good for your back. That posture places extra strain on your low back and makes it more likely that you’ll injure yourself.

Your spine has natural curves that are there to distribute your weight evenly and make it easier for you to move. For example, your low back (lumbar spine) naturally curves inward. Poor raking posture rounds your low back more than it’s used to, potentially leading to pain.

You should maintain those spinal curves while raking—but how do you know if you’re doing that? It’s not like you can stand perfectly straight while trying to make your yard look perfect.

Here’s one way: If you find yourself thinking, “Whoa, my back!” when you take a break from raking, you’re probably not using your spine correctly. If that happens mid-raking, do some more stretches.

And then when you go back to raking, try to avoid that hunched over posture. Rake, straighten up. Rake, straighten up. That should be your plan of attack to avoid putting too much strain on your low back. So many people rake with this pattern: rake, rake, rake, rake, rake, rake, rake, rake…look, I went super fast and made a huge pile! Whoa, my back!

Rake, straighten up. Rake, straighten up. Slow and steady.

Twist: There are leaves all around you, so what’s the most efficient way to reach all of them? Well, most rakers go for the stand in one place and twist approach, which isn’t bad overall.

But if you twist more with your low back—leaving your feet more or less planted—you’re relying too much on your spine. Let your feet and hips do some of the work! When raking, you should rotate by moving from your hips and shuffling your feet.

Relax: You do not have to do the entire yard in 15 minutes. In fact, you really should make leaf raking a leisurely activity. Rake for 10 to 15 minutes, and then take a break. On your break, make sure you hydrate—with water. You can reward yourself with some hot apple cider for after you’re done and you’re sitting on the porch admiring your handiwork…which most likely, will be covered by leaves again by this time tomorrow.

It’s important to take raking breaks because such a burst of high-intensity physical activity can lead to injury, especially low back injury.

You can get through fall with a healthy back and a raked yard. If, however, you already have back pain and don’t know if you can handle raking, just do what I do: Hire somebody else. That leaves you more time for going to pumpkin patches and corn mazes.
Updated on: 10/1/12

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