(photo by Jack Zalium)
Who would have thought a little feathery leaf could cause so much back pain? But in fact, each autumn, a number of leaves-rakers show up at our practice with back pain, caused by a lot of activity all in one afternoon, from bending over to rake leaves into a pile to hoisting heavy bags of leaves over their shoulders.
Raking leaves can be a pleasant physical activity that allows one to be outside, enjoying the yard and the warm autumn sun, satisfyingly cleaning up the lawn of scattered debris into small piles. However, much like shoveling snow, too much at once can leave the somewhat sedentary in a lot of pain.
There are a lot of ways to avoid causing pain or to avoid throwing out your back. First, make sure the rake is the right size. You’ll want one that is long enough to reach far without bending over, but not too long that it’s unwieldy. Make sure it’s light enough to allow repetitive motion for hours.
Next, watch your posture. Rake with your arms and not your back. Make sure your knees are slightly bent, but your back is not.
Consider warming up. You’d warm up before any other physical activity, such as running, soccer, tennis, biking, or golf – why not hours of yard work? Walk around your yard a few times and gently stretch your legs, arms, and back.
Switch hands. Rake with one side, then switch to the other side to balance it out. Take frequent breaks, too, and stretch your back gently.
When gathering up leaves, bend with your knees. Don’t hunch over to pick them up. Even better, make your child place them into a bag (remind them to bend with their knees, too). If there is no child nearby, another alternative is to rake them onto a tarp and then drag the tarp to the curbside for pickup or to your mulch pile.
Drink water! Like any other activity, it’s important to stay hydrated so your muscles don’t cramp up.
After raking, relax and stretch your sore muscles. Bend your back gently, stretch and rotate your arms and shoulders, and touch your toes.
Another even better option? Buy, borrow, or rent a leaf blower. You can wear it on your back like a backpack and walk around your yard blowing the leaves into a pile. No bending over or major arm workout other than moving the blower around, which is lightweight.
If you think you’ve still overdone it despite following the above suggestions, call your physical therapist. He or she can help you work through an overused muscle or back pain.