How to Avoid Back Pain While Raking Leaves
Autumn is probably the best season of them all! Cooler nights let you sleep better, the start of football, baseball playoffs, and best of all—the kids are back in school! It’s all around great!
EXCEPT…those damn leaves!
I don’t know anyone who likes them, but I do know people who hate them more than anyone else… those of you who’s backs hurt after you rake them!
Many of the causes of your lower back pain from raking are preventable. Some of the issues are preventable with some quick common sense and doable fixes with a little preparation and forethought when you go out raking, and some of the causes need months to fix.
Since I don’t have a time machine, this article will concentrate on what you can fix now! (But I will give you some prep work for next year’s war with the leaves too.)
If you follow these 8 tips, you will do everything you can to limit your back pain during and after raking the yard. These 8 tips are simple and can be done by everyone with a little forethought and a little attention to how you move and will keep you out of my office with the screaming back pain that those light, little leaves give you every year!
8 Tips to Avoid Raking Injuries..Now
1. Wear appropriate clothing and protective gear—wear good supportive footwear with skid-resistant soles, so you can decrease the stress on your legs which will decrease the pressure on your back. Also, wear good work gloves, so you don’t develop blisters which will limit your ability to switch hands (see #4).
Also, wear layers. Layers allow you to warm up properly and shed each layer as your body heat rises. This keeps your body temperature at the temperature that best suits the workout that you are about to partake in.
2. Warm up before you start—Prior to starting, take a walk, do some stretching, and get yourself moving. This will get the proper blood flow into all the muscles you are about to use for the next couple hours. Loosening up the muscles of your legs, neck, back and arms will help to avoid soreness later.
3. Use proper raking techniques—Raking leaves, like many physical activities, requires proper form and technique to prevent injuries. It is important to maintain proper form throughout the activity to avoid tweaking your back.
Depending on how big the yard is and how many tress that you have, you may be out there for hours which may make soreness inevitable, but soreness and injury are not the same…soreness is ok if it lasts a day or two, but let’s avoid the injury that forces us to find help or miss out on the good activities in life.
To rake properly, keep these tips in mind:
· Keep your back straight while raking
· Keep the rake close to your body
· Avoid twisting at the back. Use your hips, feet, and arms to move the leaves
· Keep your knees slightly bent and keep one foot in front of the other to promote movement at the feet to hips and avoid excess back twisting
· Use short quick strokes with the rake as opposed to long full body sweeps to limit the excess spine movement with each stroke
4. Switch hands—The best way to rake is to spend time raking with each hand on the top for a little. Being an ambidextrous raker feels awkward at first, but forces you to use your muscles equally right versus left, and avoid overuse of one side that increases your risk of injury.
5. Watch Your Posture—The most important part of doing prolonged activities is your posture. Keeping your back straight and knees slightly bent will limit most of the back injuries that occur. As you get towards the end and you get tired, your concentration on your posture will be double-y important to prevent injury as when we fatigue, that is when the majority of injuries occur (haven’t you noticed how many injuries occur in the fourth quarter of football games or basketball games versus the first quarter?)
6. Use proper bagging and lifting techniques—Bending and lifting are the number one cause of back injuries that we see in our office, because as we bend forward, the pressure within our discs and force required by our muscles goes up dramtically.
So, pay attention to how you pick up and bag the leaves by bending at your knees and lift with a straight back. Make sure that you have a good grip on the bag and lift it slowly and in a controlled manner.
If you’re like me and you can bring your leaves to the front edge of your property for pick up. I recommend using an old sheet or tarp, and raking the leaves on top of the sheet or tarp, then bringing each corner to the middle and lifting or dragging it to the curb with your back straight and stomach muscles tight. (Actually, this is where I recruit my kids to help carry the load—isn’t that why you had them in the first place???)
7. Rake Smart—Even if you do all of these tips to help your back, it’s still a work out that can be made easier. Take a little time and plan the job.
· Rake with the wind (not against it). Not only is this more difficult, it’s demoralizing to watch all your hard work be blown right back where it came from.
· Start as far away from where you want the leaf pile to go and work closer, so as you tire, you will have less distance to carry or pull the load.
· Consider a leaf blower…it will decrease the twisting and limit your injury risk
8. Drink plenty of Water—Your muscles need water to function. In the cool temperatures, many people don’t notice their thirst until they are already dehydrated, which forces the muscles to use their reserve nutrients to contract appropriately and protect your back.
By remembering these 8 tips, you will give yourself the best chance to complete the job with the least chance of prolonged back pain or injury. And because your didn’t hurt yourself, you can go back out there next week to take care of the rest of the leaves that the trees decided to drop and the wind decided to move from your lazy neighbor’s yard to yours just to torture you.
I did promise you that I would give you some things that would help you next year, so here goes…
4 Tips to Avoid Back Pain with Raking...In the Future!
1. Get in better shape before the season by starting to do some cardiovascular training now…the better cardiovascular shape that you are in, the longer your muscles can work without injury.
2. Improve your core stability—check out my article on Core Stability by clicking here
3. Cut down some trees…just kidding…but it will help!
4. Make sure you have the best tool for the job…either make sure you have a rake that will fit your size and strength level to more efficiently perform the task OR splurge and buy yourself a leaf blower.
If you do all this, you LIMIT your injury risk, BUT I do understand that there is still a risk…And that is what we are here for. If you have developed pain after raking (and have read all the way to this part of the article), I want to offer you a FREE consult!!! We can take some time to determine if this is normal achiness or needs more attention. We will give you all the best advice on how to recover and what is your next step!
OR if you are not confident that we can help just yet…We are hosting a Workshop in our office on the “5 Best stretches for Lower Back Pain, Plus the 3 Secrets that Only Physical Therapists Know” (and your doctor won’t tell you) on Saturday, October 29th at 11 am. It’s a time where people like you can come in and see our office, meet our therapist, and ask any questions that you have about lower back pain.
Either way you choose to start getting help, there is no risk…Both are FREE and there is no commitment after you meet with us, unless YOU ask to continue on with how we can help you!
Other Free Resources If you want to read more of our informative blogs, click the link below: Click Here To Read More Of Our Physical Therapy Blog Articles Click Here To Read – Can Stress Cause Body Aches And Pains? Click Here To Read – 4 Tips to Avoid Back Pain When Traveling
Click Here To Read - How a Physical Therapist Can Help Me? We also have free, downloadable reports for people with Back Pain, Knee Pain, Neck Pain, Foot and Ankle Pain, or Shoulder Pain Want videos on demand? Check Out Our YouTube Channel (Remember to hit subscribe so you don’t miss out on our new videos!)