The fall season is by far my favorite season of the year! Don’t get me wrong, I love the summer months. But there is something about the fall that I have always loved even as a little kid. I mean when October is your birthday month, how can you not love fall? Fall brings on cooler temperatures, beautiful colors, sweatshirts, backyard fires and of course Oktoberfest beer! Fall also brings lots and lots of leaves! If you are fortunate enough to live in a region where the leaves change colors it’s a great sight! It is also a big pain in the Ass to clean them up! Most people’s tool of choose is a rake. Now raking leaves can be enjoyed by some and it’s a good way to get your kids involved by helping out. But most of the time they are just jumping into the piles of leaves. However, if you are not careful, you can end up sidelined because of low back pain, all caused by raking leaves improperly.
It’s Saturday morning and you decide to finally go outside to clean up the mess that mother nature leaves every fall. You start at one end of the yard and just keep going. You have been at it now for about 4 hours and you can see the finish line. You know you should stop for lunch or take a break, but you decide to push through and get it done. Afterwards you feel a little sore in your low back, but you just attribute that to being inactive and raking an entire yard! You feel accomplished now! You feel that you have completed something! You decide to have a fire outside and grab a few Sam Adams Octoberfest beers! When you hit the sack for the night you feel good, especially after drinking a few cold ones. The next morning you wake up and can’t get out of bed! You think to yourself…what the hell did I do? Does this sound familiar?
Here are some tips to try and limit your low back pain or even avoid it while raking leaves:
1. Choose a good leaf rake: Make sure it is proportionate to your body size. If it is too long or too short that can be an issue and cause unwanted stress on your back.
2. Warm up: Before you venture outside do a few light stretches in your house. Stretch out your hamstrings by bending over to touch your toes. Stretch your quads/thighs out by pulling your foot back towards your butt. Lay on your back and pull your knees to your chest 5” x 10. Lay on your back and bend your knees. Let your legs fall side to side and hold 5” x 10.
3. Practice Abdominal Bracing/Pelvic Floor activation: The proper way to activate and brace your abdominal muscles is to pretend like someone is going to punch you in the gut and brace. At the same time activate your pelvic floor. This is called a Kegel exercise. Women are familiar with this. Act like you need to go to the bathroom real bad and you need to hold it until you pull over to a rest stop. These 2 things combined are the basis behind so many activities and you should do them during all of them. While you are raking practice doing these as you move the rake and bend over to pick up leaves. This creates a counter pressure on your back and helps stabilize it so that you try and prevent injury.
4. Keep good posture: Like with any exercise that you do you have to have good form to prevent injury. Raking leaves is the same thing. While raking leaves try to keep your knees slightly bend and to reach with your arms and not your back. After about 15-20 min stand straight up and extend your back looking up towards the sky.
5. Rake with the wind if it is present: Using the wind to your advantage is always a good thing. It makes you not have to work as hard and it actually helps take pressure off.
6. Bend with your knees engaging your abs in tip 3: When bending over to pick up leaves remember to engage your abs and pelvic floor before hand as in tip #3. Bend at your knees keeping your back straight and not bending over.
7. Stay hydrated: Make sure to drink plenty of water. Your body functions optimally when it is properly hydrated. Muscles get fatigued if they do not have the proper water content.
8. Take frequent breaks: If you take breaks and take your time you are less likely to injure yourself. Don’t be in such a hurry, especially if your kids are helping you. Enjoy the fall weather, before you know it it will be snowing!
So, while your sitting waiting for the leaves to change and eventually fall think about these tips. Focus on trying to do things at a steady pace, and take your time. It’s better to be safe than sorry! Have a great fall and happy leaf raking!