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4 Ways to Avoid Pain While Raking Leaves
October 26, 2016
It’s a beautiful time of year here in Spokane, especially in my neck of the woods!

Millwood is truly gorgeous when the maple and oak leaves start to change colors and rain down yellow, orange and red leaves along our boulevard.

And believe it or not, I’ve actually come to enjoy raking the leaves (I used to hate raking!).  But now days, raking the leaves is a great excuse to get outside with the kids, get a little light exercise and just soak in the fresh air and beautiful scenery.

While I think my appreciation for the leaves is just part of me getting older, there’s another part to getting older that isn’t so fun…

Can you guess what I’m talking about?  I imagine you can… raking leaves isn’t quite as easy as it was in my 20’s.

Don’t get me wrong, at 34 years old, I’m certainly not complaining about being too out of shape to rake.  And I don’t have any real issues with pain.  Yet…

Because one thing I can really appreciate, is that if I make a few key mistakes while raking, I will “feel it” the next day.

“Feeling it” for me might just be some sore back and leg muscles.  But as a physical therapist, I have an in-depth understanding of how these “normal” aches and pains can quickly turn into a real issue, like a bulging disc in my back or an actual overuse muscle sprain that doesn’t just go away in 2 days like it used to.

So as I was raking away with my wife and 2 kids this weekend (5 year-old Jules had the leaf-blower!), I started thinking about the different ways people like me and you can avoid injuries while enjoying some raking.

4 Ways to Avoid Pain While Raking

1.  Use Your Legs! It always sounds like such simple advice, “Use your legs and not your back,” but it’s absolutely true. Here’s what happens when you don’t use your legs while you’re raking: you end up bending forward and twisting very repetitively.  And not only that, but you’re also adding some resistance when you start pulling on those leaves.  Instead, try keeping an athletic stance, with bent knees, while you’re raking.  And when you need to twist, stay mobile and twist with your hips.  Using your legs also applies to when you go to lift the leaves into your bin or garbage can. (We’re spoiled in Millwood and only have to rake the leaves to the street, where the maintenance workers come by and suck them up!)

2.  Pace Yourself.  Another no-brainer, right? But so often overlooked. We’re all in such a hurry these days, and for most of us raking the leaves is just one of many things that needs to get done over the weekend. Plus there’s a least 4 football games we need to watch! So instead of rushing to get the leaves done, try slowing down a bit and taking some rest/stretch breaks every 5-10 minutes. With all the forward bending and twisting involved, one stretch I’d particularly recommend is a gentle standing back bend. This will help you keep your back and your discs from getting too irritated.

3.  Be Ambidextrous.  This one is a little more tricky…and I like to think of it as a beneficial challenge for your brain, as well as a benefit for your body. Think about it: if you only rake on your dominant side, you’ll be working the same muscles over and over (and over). So why not try switching it up once in a while? It may be a little frustrating at first, but your body will thank you. And like I said, it really is a good challenge for your brain!

4.  Pay the Neighborhood Kids! Possibly my best piece of advice, paying the neighborhood kids to rake your leaves is a great option. While I have my own kids (soon to be free labor!) and I like to rake my own leaves, some of you probably have huge areas to rake with very little help. And when you hire the neighborhood kids, they get to earn some money the good old way: by physical labor.  You gotta love that!

So there you have it, 4 ways to keep your body feeling good and out of pain while you rake leaves this fall.

***A quick update to the original post: it’s a year later, and 5 year-old Jules is now 6 year-old Jules…and what a difference a year makes! Julian is quite a bit stronger this year, and instead of just using the leaf-blower, he actually did a solid amount of raking on several occasions.

And he also taught me a new trick…let’s call it Tip #5

Tip #5 from Julian: Flip your rake upside down! As we were all out raking together (wife, kids, neighbors, in-laws, the whole gang!), when Julian came to a big pile of leaves that were too heavy or cumbersome to rake, he would flip his rake upside down and push the big pile across the lawn or street.

It seemed kind of silly until I tried it…and it was much easier!

I’ve also seen people use show shovels, which is basically the same thing. It turns out that old adage about how “it’s easier to push than pull” is completely applicable when it comes to raking leaves!

So there you have it: 5 tips to keep you feeling good during this phenomenal yet short fall season!

If you’re experiencing ongoing pain that’s holding you back from things like raking leaves (or enjoying a nice walk through the park) this fall, please call the clinic at 509.892.5442 to schedule a phone call with one of our PTs who can help you understand the cause of your pain and what you can do to relieve it and return to your active lifestyle!

Happy raking!


P.S. Here’s 6 year-old Jules in action!

And just to clarify: wearing a helmet is not required when raking…unless you suffer from poor balance or want to ride your bike when you’re ready for a break 🙂

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