12 Tips for Avoiding Low Back Pain While Raking Leaves
There are many things to look forward to as Fall arrives; cooler temperatures, comfy sweaters, the smell of a fire burning in the fireplace and the changing colors of the trees, to name a few. Raking leaves on a crisp autumn afternoon can be an enjoyable way to spend a fall afternoon soaking up the sights and smells of the season. However, if you’re not careful it can lead to a night filled with back pain and little to no sleep.
One of the most common complaints following several hours of raking leaves is low back pain. The repetitive movements and constant bending and lifting can wreak havoc on your back muscles, and if you’re not careful it’s easy to hurt your back making everyday activities, and a good night’s sleep, a challenge.
Dr. Brian Morrison, President & Clinical Director of Morrison Chiropractic and Adjunct Faculty Member at the University of Maryland School of Medicine is very familiar with the back pains experienced by homeowners trying to keep up with the constantly falling leaves. Every autumn he sees many patients complaining of back pain after a weekend of raking leaves.
“One of the biggest mistakes many people make when raking leaves is not raking with both sides of the body,” says Dr. Morrison. “Most people only rake with their dominant hand causing the muscles on one side of the body to be overused. Switching hands is important to give those muscles a break and to build up strength in the same muscles on the other side,” he added.
- Warm up. Take a 5-10 minute brisk walk to warm up your muscles. There is no scientific evidence that stretching before an activity prevents injury. Some flexion stretches such as bending to touch the toes first thing in the morning can cause injury.
- Choose the Right Rake. Use a rake that is proportionate to your body size. Using a rake that is too long or too short will cause you to alter your posture and strain your muscles. Consider the rake width. Narrow rakes may make the weight of the leaves lighter but they can also make the job longer. Extra wide rakes gather more leaves but can put more of a strain on your back.
- Watch Your Posture. Like any exercise, proper form is important. Muscle pain and strain occurs when you put your body in awkward positions and then try to contract or extend muscles in these odd positions. To maintain proper posture while raking keep your legs slightly bent, your weight centered, and reach with your arms and not your back. After every 20 minutes of raking activity stand up, place hands on hips and gently stretch into a back bend for a few seconds 3-5 times especially before lifting anything. Do not extend to the point of causing pain.
- Switch Hands Frequently. You exhaust your muscles with repetitive motion. Switch your lead arm frequently while raking to prevent, or alleviate, muscle exhaustion
- Bend With Your Knees. When lifting leaves keep your back straight and bend with your knees and hips, not your back, when reaching down. The power for your lift comes from your buttocks and legs. Make the piles small to decrease the weight.
- Rake With the Wind. Let Mother Nature give you a hand if possible. Rake leaves with the wind, even if the spot in the yard is different from where you wanted to rake the leaves. Rake them on to a tarp and drag the tarp to your desired destination.
- Use a Tarp. Leaves are lightweight and can easily be moved on a tarp. Rake the leaves onto the tarp and pull one end of the tarp to move the leaves to your desired location. Doing this can save your back constant bending over to pick up piles of leaves to put into a garbage bag or wheelbarrow.
- Drink Plenty of Water. Muscles need water to function optimally. When you maintain your body’s water levels during use, you allow your muscles to coordinate with each other properly and support your physical activity.
- Wear Good Shoes. Wear supportive shoes with good arch support and skid-resistant soles. Standing on your feet and raking all day can put a lot of strain on your feet and legs. Good foot and arch support can stop some of that strain from reaching your back and skid-resistant soles can minimize the risk of slipping on wet leaves and falling.
- Consider a Leaf Blower. There are some lightweight gas and electric leaf blowers on the market that are hand held or can be worn like a backpack. Blowing all the leaves into one large pile or onto a tarp can save time and lots of energy.
- Wear Gloves. Give your hands a break and wear gloves to prevent painful blisters.
- Take Frequent Breaks. Taking your time will make it less likely for injuries to occur. Pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion can cause you to get sloppy with good posture and lifting techniques, setting you up for injury.
Dr. Morrison recommends conservative treatments including:
- Heat and/or ice treatments.
- Exercise, stretching techniques, chiropractic care or physical therapy to repair and strengthen muscles.
- Lifestyle changes such as weight loss and regular exercise.
- Propping pillows behind your back and under knees when resting to take pressure off of your lower back.
“As part of our new patient evaluation we discuss the importance of quality sleep to help the healing process,” commented Dr. Morrison. “If a patient is sleeping on an old or uncomfortable mattress we recommend they consider replacing it. People don’t realize that their mattress can be adding too, or causing, their lower back pain problems. We recommend Easy Rest Adjustable Beds to our patients because they help support the spine and allow the patient to find a position that is comfortable for them,” he added.
An adjustable bed like the ones available from Easy Rest may help with the symptoms of low back pain. People who rest and sleep in an adjustable bed are able to find individualized positions to take the pressure off their back pain by easily adjusting the bed with a wireless remote control. Massage features may help back pain sufferers relax and fall asleep easier, allowing the body to work on repairing itself. Optional heat features allow users to add heat to their lower back without the need of additional heating pads.