Fall is officially in full swing here in New England. But as much as we love leaf peeping, leaf raking is turning into a literal pain! As more and more people start their fall clean ups over the next few weeks, we fully expect to be getting more calls and complaints in our office about back pain.
Here are 5 tips (plus a bonus tip!) to help you avoid back pain while raking leaves.
1. Warm up
Crisp, cool fall weather is perfect for walking. Before you start any activity, never mind a repetitive one like raking leaves, it’s a good idea to warm up your body first. Walking is an easy and practical way to get your legs, arms, and spine moving so that your joints feel lubricated and loose ahead of all that yard work.
2. Plan for stretch breaks
The biggest “danger” to your back when it comes to raking leaves is its repetitive nature — specifically the frequent bending of your spine. Our spines were designed to hold us upright, not to bend over and over again in the same direction. One of the simplest ways to protect your back while raking leaves, or any other repetitive activity, is to take quick and frequent rest periods to stretch the opposite way. Stand up tall and stretch backwards. Many of us do this instinctively, but typically not often enough. Best practice is to do this once or twice every 30 min. Your back will thank you.
3. Use your core
You don’t need six-pack abs to prevent back pain while raking leaves, but being mindful of your core can be super beneficial and never hurts. Most back injuries occur when you least expect it… coughing, sneezing, picking something light off the floor. These activities are so mindless and automatic you’re not paying attention to your body or what it’s doing. The same thing can happen when you’re repetitively raking leaves. Each time you pull the rake toward you, think about engaging your abs and bracing your core. This will help keep your spine in a more supported and stable position while bent over. We help people in our office learn to engage and be more mindful of their core all the time. They are surprised at how beneficial this simple tip can be for them with all activities, not just raking leaves.
4. Bend with your knees and hips
After all the raking is done, you’ve got to pick up your leaves. It’s a good idea to be extra mindful of your posture here, especially because you’re more tired and fatigued at this point. The best way to pick anything up (not just leaves) is by squatting and using your legs. The perfect squat starts with your hips. Hinge back at your hips and bring yourself closer to the ground by bending your knees, not your spine. Once you’re in your squat, scoop up the leaves with your arms and use your legs and buttocks to stand upright. Even though the leaves aren’t heavy, this is a good habit to become proficient at. Remember that back pain almost always happens when you’re least expecting it, even picking up something light like a bunch of leaves.
5. Use a leaf blower
This is probably the best way to avoid all the repetitive bending that occurs with traditional leaf raking. However, you still want to be mindful of all the tips I just mentioned. Since it’s hard to stand perfectly upright when you’re blowing leaves, you want to be mindful of your core, take quick stretch breaks, and watch your posture. Holding the leaf blower for prolonged periods can also be quite strenuous on your neck, but all of these tips can help with that too!
Oh – and one more BONUS TIP…
What you do after raking is equally as important as what you do during to help prevent back pain.
One of the biggest mistakes people make after a repetitive or strenuous activity (like raking) is to slump on the couch or recliner and rest. This is one of the worst things you can do to your spine because it’s more pliable and vulnerable after strenuous activity. When you put yourself in a relaxed and sustained bending position – after all that repetitive bending – it can be the icing on the cake. You go to stand up and BOOM – there goes your back. I see it all the time. Do yourself a favor and go for another walk after raking to cool down, and be mindful of the posture you rest in after all that hard work.
To learn more about back pain and how to prevent it, you can download our FREE back pain guide right here! Hopefully these tips give you a few things to think about before you go raking, and most importantly, avoid unwanted back pain so you can enjoy this beautiful fall season.