Raking Leaves the Safe Way

By: Lisa McCarrell PT
Orthopaedic Rehab Specialists, PC. 
ORS Jonesville Clinic Director

Ahhh fall, the greatest season of them all. There is so much to love about fall: sweater/sweatshirt season, the cool, crisp air, the pumpkin patch and corn maze, apple cider, football, and even those beautiful leaves piling up on your lawn. 
Raking leaves gives you the perfect opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy the fresh air, while getting in a workout at the same time, and besides your yard will look great when you are finished. 
Raking leaves is considered moderate physical activity, similar to a brisk walk, swimming, or mowing a lawn. Raking helps build upper body strength, as well as core strength, or strength in your stomach and back. As you rake, your core is working to stabilize your body while your arms are moving. It is possible to burn 240 calories or more raking leaves for an hour. 
So, have at those leaves! Layer up, grab a rake and a bottle of water to keep yourself hydrated. To make it a little easier on your body, here are a few tips to follow:

Warm Up
Just as with any other physical activity, you should warm up your muscles before you work them. Raking uses muscles in your arms, chest, stomach, legs, and back-almost all of the large muscle groups in your body. Try walking around the yard while doing some arm circles, bending forward, backward, and to each side. Follow that up with some gentle stretching in your arms and legs. 

Stand and Move Correctly
Pay attention to your posture. You should have wider base of support with one hand on the end of the rake and the other approximately ¾ of the way down the handle. Be careful not to twist your spine, but instead mover your body as a whole, not going farther than your feet allow. Keep your back as straight as you can with it’s natural alignment. Staying hunched over while raking places extra strain on your low back making you more prone to injury. 

Switch Sides
People have a tendency to rake on one side of their body, which increases the risk of injury due to repetitive movement. To avoid overuse injury, switch sides every 10-15 minutes. Try raking for 10 minutes with your left hand and then 10 minutes with your right hand. This will help balance out the stress and strain on your low back form pulling from the sides instead of directly in front of you. It will also result in equal use of your arms. 

Take It Easy
Take your time. Especially if you are not used to being physically active or doing a lot of yard work. Taking a break to have a drink of water and stretch will give your muscles some time to relax from the high repetitive movements associated with raking. 

Bagging Leaves
Once you finish with raking, you have to protect your body from another back straining activity - bagging the leaves. Bagging leaves can involve a lot of awkward positions while bending and stooping. If you have to stoop forward, try to face forward instead of twisting to the side. 

Leaf Bagging Don’ts

Don’t lift with your back. Bend your knees and lift with your legs.
Don’t overfill the bags so they become too heavy to lift. Try dragging them or using a wheelbarrow, if you have to move them along distance. 
Using a trap? Don’t overload it and don’t twist your body when you are pulling the tarp. Try to get help to grab an opposite end to help move the leaves. 
Don’t be a weekend athlete and try to bag all of the leaves at once. Pace yourself and tackle the leaves in sections. Try not to do it all at once. Better yet, save the bagging for another day, so not to put your back at greater risk by lifting right after you rake. 

So, add leaf raking to your list of physical activities for the fall. If you do suffer an injury while raking or while you are out doing your normal fall chores, see your physical Therapist at ORS to help you get back on track!