Peak foliage has passed, and now autumn's splendor is mostly on the ground. Front yard, back yard, side yard... So weekend warriors now turn to the annual chores of raking, bagging, blowing, and mulching the leaves. While raking is an excellent, moderate form of exercise, more than 28,000 people are medically treated each year for back, neck, and should injuries directly related to disposing of leaves! (Source; Consumer Product Safety Commission Report).
To avoid injuries to your back, neck, shoulders and wrists while you're cleaning up leaves, here are some tips:
1. Choose the Right Size Rake: Yes, those "super size" rakes might lull you into thinking they will cut the time required in half, but they rarely do and actually increase the potential for injury. Bottom line; choose a rake that is light and easy to use for you size/strength. And if it's cold and damp, stretch more and make sure you're warmly dressed. Cold makes muscles and tendons tighten up and become good candidates for injury.
2. Stretch- Before and After: Do a little "warming up" before you start tossing leaves around. A walk around the yard to loosen up the legs, and gently rotate your back and neck to let them know they'll be getting a workout soon. Windmill your shoulders to loosen them up. 5-10 Minutes of stretching before and after you rake will work wonders.
3. Switch Hands: Most people keep their hands in the same position on the rake. Over an hour or tow of raking, this puts 'repetitive stress" on only one side of back/ neck/shoulders. Simply switch the position of your hands, and alternate hands frequently, and you'll fee better when the leaves are done!
4. Use Your Legs, Not Your Back: Of course you know to bend and lift with your legs (not your back), but when raking leaves it's also important not to reach too far with the rake and extend your back (and possibly hurt it). Stay in a normal, upright position and use shorter raking strokes instead of long, reaching strokes. You'll immediately notice that you'll be moving your legs a bit more to get to the leaves, but that's fine (they're stronger than your arms, anyway!)
5. Hand Blowers: The natural tendency when you use a hand blower is to bend slightly forward from the waist to get the right angle to blow the leaves. While it might be fine for you leaves; it's a terrible positioning for your lower back. Stay upright and avoid the tendency to bend! Eye and protection should be used, as well.
While leaf raking is a bit of a chore, it's often done in spectacular fall weather conditions which make it easy and enjoyable to be outside. Take your time (the leaves aren't going anywhere fast), and don't try to load up those tarps with all of the leaves at one time! Dragging the tarps around (particularly by yourself) is a common cause of back pain.
So, enjoy this last big of the fall season, and one final observation. Everyone knows they're supposed to lift leaf bags (and leaves into the leaf bag) by bending their knees and using their legs instead of their backs. Just take a look around your block and see if anyone is actually following this eminently practical and sound advice! And then make your own decision!
ABOUT WEST HARTFORD CHIROPRACTIC: Dr. Moshe Laub, DC is the founder of West Hartford Chiropractic, LLC. WCH produces a monthly series of "public service announcements" that contain health and wellness tips on season activities ranging from snow shoveling to choosing the right backpack for your kids during "back to school" time.
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