When the end of summer arrives and the leaves begin to fall, homeowners are faced with the task of raking the fallen leaves. Patients who come in for Physiotherapy in Waterloo are often curious as to how they can prevent back pain when raking leaves. The LiveWell Waterloo team has put together some helpful tips to prevent lower back pain and general back pain when raking leaves this Fall.

Preparing to Rake The Leaves

It may sound silly, but to prevent back pain and injuries, you need to stretch and warm up your body before you head outside. Before you start raking leaves, take 10 or 15 minutes to get your muscles and joints in good motion. Some great stretching and warm-up exercises include:

Basic Trunk Rotations

To begin this exercise, lie flat on your back, and bend your knees up to your chest. Gently, let your legs down on your left while your knees are still bent. This should give you a stretch on the right side of your lower back. Do the same on the opposite side to even out the stretch.

Standing Torso Twists

If getting down on the floor isn’t something you can do easily, try out standing torso twists. When standing up, place your feet shoulder-width apart and keep your arms and neck loose. Gently rotate your torso to the right and left, allowing your arms to swing with your movement. If you are doing the exercise correctly, your head and neck will follow through with the movement.

Squats and Lunges

Because you’ll be doing plenty of squats and lunging movements while raking leaves, it’s a good idea to warm your muscles up by doing some! When squatting, make sure that your back is straight and your knees don’t go over your toes. Think about pushing all the weight of the squat into the balls of your feet, instead of your toes. For lunges, make sure you also keep your back straight and when you step forward to lunge, that your front knee lines up with your ankle, and your back knee doesn’t touch the floor. Keep you’re your knees at 90-degree angles and don’t overdo the stretch.

Arm and Shoulder Stretching

While your lower body does most of the base work when raking leaves, your upper body needs to be strong and able to pull the rake and lift leaves into yard waste bags. Make sure you warm up these muscles by gently stretching your arms and shoulders. For arm stretches, put one arm at a 90-degree angle and allow the other to stretch across it, being cradled by the inside of your elbow. Gently curl the arm that is on the 90-degree angle so you can feel a stretch in your arm that is going across. Do the same for the other side.

To stretch out your shoulders there are three ways that involve the interlocking of your hands. You can put your arms straight in front of your body and interlock your hands, put your arms above your head and interlock your hands, or put your arms behind your back and interlock your hands.  With each of these positions, aim to gently stretch your arms and hands, which will also incorporate your upper back muscles and shoulder areas to stretch.

Stretching out your Wrists

This is similar to you would want to stretch your wrists when treating Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. (For those tips, check out our previous post).

Above all else, take a short 10-minute walk to get your heart rate going. This will help prevent any strain on your heart as you are raking leaves and get the blood pumping at a steady pace through your body. You don’t need to go too hard on this walk, just enough so you can feel your body warming up and your circulation is increased.

Let’s Start Raking the Leaves!

Once the preparation for raking leaves is done, it’s time to get into the work of actually raking the leaves. The most common injury our Physiotherapists in Waterloo see related to raking leaves, is those of the lower back and the upper back. Patients either pull their muscles or have looming back pain once they are done raking leaves, leaving them to ponder just how it happened.

Keep Good Form

The biggest reason for lower back pain after raking leaves is because patients don’t notice their form when they are raking. Step one in keeping good form is to purchase a rake that is proportionate to your body. If you pick a rake that is too long or a rake that is too short, you’ll be forcing your muscles to compensate for the height differences, creating twists and bends in your back where they shouldn’t be.

Pick a Proportionate Rake to Your Body and Surface Area

Pick a rake that allows you to comfortably place your hands near the mid-top and allows you to keep a good posture. If possible, opt for a plastic rake instead of a metal one. Plastic rakes are much lighter than the metal ones and cover the same amount of surface.

Get in Touch With Nature

…Speaking of surface, get to know the surface you are working with. If it has rained, the leaves may be particularly heavy and damp. Try to avoid raking wet leaves because they will be much heavier to lift into a yard waste bag. Also, if your property is on a hill, try to work with gravity instead of against it. By raking leaves downhill, towards you, it puts less strain on your lower back muscles than if you were to rake them uphill.

The Motion of Raking Leaves

While raking, be sure that you avoid bending from the hips when going to reach for leaves or to pull them in towards you. Much like shovelling snow, you need to bend at the knees to pull in and pick up, instead of at the waist. If you bend at the waist, your spine and lower back muscles are overworked, which can result in slipped discs or strains. Once you have a pile of leaves ready to go, the next task is getting them into a yard waste bag. When picking up leaves to put in the bag, be sure to bend your knees and only pick up as much as you comfortably can.

Knowing When To Stop

If you are following the tips we’ve provided and are still experiencing back pain, it’s time to readdress the issue. One way to address the problem is to simply rake leaves in smaller intervals with smaller piles. This way, your muscles are not overworked in a short period of time and have a chance to build up strength and form. If this does not help the problem, book an appointment with one of our Physiotherapists in Waterloo.

Our Physiotherapists can examine how your body moves when you are performing the motions of raking leaves and they can show you how to improve your form. They can also examine if you have any problems in your lower back that cause a limited range of motion. For more information on how to prevent lower back pain this Fall, please don’t hesitate to contact LiveWell Waterloo Physiotherapy, today!