Don’t let raking leaves bring you down: how to rake safely and avoid injury this fall

The arrival of fall in full swing brings with it a number of pleasant changes, one of the most enjoyable of which is the turning of the leaves to a bright array of reds, oranges and yellows.  While the aesthetic value of watching these changes occur is undeniable to most, many dread their falling to the ground and the sometimes-daunting task of raking them that comes with it.

For those with a yard who are familiar with this yearly process, raking leaves can be a great way to help you stay active and even burn some calories while doing so.  Unfortunately, when not performed properly, the dynamics and repetitive motion of raking can also lead to low back pain and other injuries to the neck, shoulders or wrist.  As a result, some might draw a negative association with raking and fear they could be putting themselves at risk for an injury.  For those of you who fall into this category or for anyone raking leaves this fall, take solace in the fact that most of these injuries can easily be prevented.

Follow these basic tips and better help ensure safe raking this autumn:

  • Use a properly-sized rake that fits you (not too heavy or light), wear gloves to prevent blisters and comfortable shoes with skid-resistant soles
  • Engage in a brief, 10-minute warm-up with some brisk walking and stretching of the shoulders, neck and back before raking
  • Avoid twisting the body, planting your feet or using your back while raking; instead, focus on using your arms and legs, stand upright, and shift your weight between each raking stroke
  • Vary your movements so as not to overuse certain muscle groups
  • Divide the job into segments and take breaks every 15-20 minutes
  • Stay properly hydrated before and during raking
  • When bagging leaves, bend your knees, lift with your legs and don’t overload bags
  • Cool down and stretch after your finished, including back bending stretches: stand with feet at hip width and lean back with hands over back pockets 10 times

If you’re in any pain 20 minutes after raking, ice the affected area and monitor your symptoms until the next day.  If you’re still experiencing pain 24 hours after raking, we highly recommend that you visit us at Cleveland Physical Therapy Associates, where we can identify the problem and help relieve your pain.

We hope you enjoy the season and stay safe while raking this fall.