We are in peak leaf-raking season right now in New England. Leaves are everywhere – and the daily sound of leaf blowers in my neighborhood has become somewhat meditative. I love Fall – but I don’t love raking leaves. And raking leaves is even worse when you’re suffering from back pain.
The good news – it’s not as hard as you think to avoid back pain while doing this repetitive, monotonous activity…
Here are 5 tips to help you avoid back pain when you’re raking leaves:
1. Take a walk before you start.
Walking is a really great activity for your back in general, but it’s also a really easy way to warm-up your entire body ahead of an hour or more of repetitive raking. Personally, I love nothing more than taking a walk in the cool, crisp Fall air.
Why not take a quick walk around the block before you get into your raking?
This simple activity will bring blood flow to your arms, legs, and spine – and get all your joints moving and warm ahead of the full body activity that is raking.
2. Stretch every 30 minutes.
The biggest “danger” to your back when it comes to raking leaves is the repetitive nature of it – specifically the frequent bending and rotation of your spine.
Our spines were designed to hold us upright, not to bend and twist 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. Every 30 min or so, stop what you’re doing, and give yourself a simple stretch backwards. This very simple action can go a long way in avoiding excessive back pain while raking.
3. Bend with your legs and hips.
As mentioned above – one of the worst activities for your lower back is repetitive bending and rotation – which is very easy to do if you’re not paying attention while raking leaves.
One way to avoid this is to use your hips and legs to bend and rotate. Using your legs and hips to bend and get lower to the ground when raking minimizes the bending at your spine – and pivoting at your pelvis to throw the leaves away minimizes the rotation to your spine.
Don’t get me wrong, your back will still likely be sore after taking even when “doing everything right” – but the stress will be significantly less and can help you avoid throwing out your back a day or two later – because yes – this is the timeframe when it will usually occur if you didn’t use good habits while raking your leaves.
4. Engage 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 it certainly won’t hurt you. Most back injuries occur when you least expect it… coughing, sneezing, picking something light off the floor.
These activities are so mindless and automatic that you’re typically not paying attention to what your core might be doing – or not doing. Raking leaves is an equally mindless activity. Each time you pull the rake toward you or lift it, think about drawing your belly in and engaging your abs. This will help keep your spine more supported and stable while raking.
5. Keep moving afterwards.
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.
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.
Are you local to Portsmouth, NH and looking for help with your back pain?
Consider speaking to one of my specialists.
You can tell us everything thats been going on and we’ll see if we’re fit to help you – and give you all of the information you need to make the best decisions for your health.
Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To request a free copy of her guide to back pain CLICK HERE or to get in touch, email her at [email protected].