Raking Leaves Safely

It’s that time of year again when the leaves start to fall and you spend your entire Saturday raking. While it might not seem painful at the time, the next day people often find themselves paying for their hard work with back pain, sore shoulders and aching wrists. How can this be prevented?

Raking and sweeping motions use similar motions, by causing the body to twist at the low back, while the legs stay planted in the same place. Also, when you rake and bend forward repeatedly, this causes a strain to the muscles in your mid and lower back. The combination of poor body mechanics combined with weak abdominal and back muscles can result in low back pain.

Here are some Healthy Tips for Raking Safely:
1. Warm up 
Try putting on your favorite music and dance for 3 minutes. March or jog in place for a few minutes.

2. Stretch: These are 3 stretches that target the trunk, legs and upper body:

  • Counter-top stretch: Place your hands on your kitchen counter and walk backwards until your body makes an L-shape. Bend or hinge forward from your hips, while keeping your back lengthened your arms forward. You’ll feel a stretch in your back and throughout your trunk. Hold this for 10 long, deep breaths.
  • Heel up on a chair stretch: While holding onto some support, straighten your leg out and place your heel up on a chair, tighten the thigh, and pull your toes towards your body. Feel the stretch in the back of your leg. There’s no need to bend forward and it’s better if you don’t. Just stand up tall and keep both legs active. Hold 10 breaths. Repeat other side.
  • Bent knee with ankle in hand stretch: Keep holding onto some support as you grab one foot with one hand behind your buttocks and hold it as you bend that leg. You should feel this stretch in the front of the thigh of the bent leg as you hold for 10 breaths. Repeat other side.

3. Core strengthening exercise: While standing, imagine pulling your belly button in towards your spine and engage your abdominal muscles without letting your pelvis tuck under. Try holding this for 5-10 seconds while breathing normally and repeat a few times. This exercise uses the innermost layer of ab and back muscles and reminds your body where the center of your core strength is.

4. Focus: As you’re raking, focus on the rotating movements in your hips. You can place your finger on the front of your hips and practice a few sways side to side, simulating raking. Avoid letting the rotation happen at your waist—this will cause unnecessary movement around your lumbar spine. Continue to focus on the core strength exercise above and engage your belly button in towards your spine as you rake. Pay attention to loosening up any stiffness in your legs and trunk muscles and you’ll go a long way in preventing injury to your back.

If you suffer from chronic neck or low back pain, it’s always a good idea to get some exercise advice and education from a physical therapist. Our experienced and dedicated licensed physical therapists can help you get started. With Direct Access a prescription is not required before receiving physical therapy treatments. We also accept most insurance plans, and we offer free consultations.

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