By John Voket
The next few weekends will involve cleaning up around your property, including raking leaves—but that timeless fall activity can cause tremendous strain on the back.
That’s where advice from spine specialist Dr. Kaixuan Liu, with Atlantic Spine Center of New Jersey, comes in. His tips to prevent raking-related back injuries:
Stretch – Just like you’d stretch your back, leg and shoulder muscles before a family football game—another popular fall activity—take time to do so before a leaf-raking session. Concentrate on your upper and lower back areas, arms, neck and legs. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds.
Avoid Twisting – Instead of planting your feet on the ground while raking and twisting in all directions with your back, move your feet into different surrounding areas. “Let your hips and feet do some of the work,” Dr. Liu says.
Align Your Spine – Staying hunched over while raking strains lower back muscles, Dr. Liu notes. Instead, keep legs shoulder-width apart and bend knees slightly. Stand straight up often to rest the lower back.
Right-Size Your Rake – Tools are sold in varying sizes, and your rake should be properly sized for your height and strength.
Pick the Best Shoes for the Job – Don’t just kick on the closest pair of shoes before heading out to rake, Dr. Liu advises. Wear shoes with skid-resistant soles to minimize the risk of slipping (especially if leaves are damp) or falling.
Bend at the Knees – Picking up leaf piles (or dragging a tarp full of them) requires a lot of strength. Be sure to bend your knees while disposing of leaves, rather than letting your back bear the brunt of the movement and weight, Dr. Liu says.
Take a Break – Treat raking like any other form of vigorous exercise and take a break every 15 to 30 minutes, Dr. Liu recommends. “This tip is especially important for those ‘weekend warriors’ who don’t exercise regularly.”
One last tip, Dr. Liu adds: when you’re done raking and hauling leaves for the day, take a few moments to gently stretch muscles one more time.