How to Rake Leaves Without Hurting your Back

It’s that time of year again, raking season!  And this year, perhaps every year, it seems like there are more leaves than ever, and on top of that, a lot of them are wet! Which means extra heavy…not good.

So how do you rake all those heavy, wet leaves without hurting your back? Here are 9 tips to bulletproof your back while raking:

1. Warm up before you start raking.

One of the best ways to prevent injury with an exercise (and yes, raking is exercise) is to be properly warmed up. Unlike what you were likely told way back in grade school, stretching cold muscles actually contributes to more injuries than it prevents.

So don’t stretch, but DO warm up. This can be going for a brisk 5-10 minute walk first, jogging on the spot for 2 minutes first…basically anything to get your blood pumping and your muscles warmed up.

2. Try to minimize how forward you are bent while you’re raking.

Try to stay relatively upright while you rake. The reason for this is because this allows you to maintain the proper curvatures in your spine, especially your low back, which are designed to support your spine, and to protect it.

When you bend too far forward while raking, you lose these natural curves, and are more likely to injure yourself and be in pain.  So focus on staying nice and upright.

3. Stand up and straighten up.

As you rake, if you must bend forwards sometimes, make sure periodically, every couple of minutes, you fully stand up and straighten up. This will take pressure off your low back, and help it to stay healthy, and keep you out of pain.

4. Face the leaves straight on.

When you’re raking, instead of twisting to rake the leaves beside you, move your feet and take a small step, so that you’re facing them straight on. Less twisting will put less stress on your low back, and is less likely to cause an injury.

5. Hydrate.

Make sure you’re drinking water before starting, and after you’ve been raking for a while. A dehydrated body and spine is less flexible, and more likely to be injured.

6. Lift with your knees, not your back.

As you’re raking, unfortunately, the leaves do not magically bag themselves! When you’re bending down to pick up the leaves, make sure you’re bending with your knees, to keep your spine as upright as possible. This allows you to maintain those healthy curves in your spine, which help to minimize disc compression and possible injury.

7. Take your time.

Pace yourself, it doesn’t all have to be done in one day or one outing. Take breaks, and spread the job out over several days. Odds are more leaves will continue to fall anyways, so no need to power through all in one go.

8. Cool down afterwards.

Once you’re done raking, don’t collapse into a soft couch or soft chair. This is often how people end up hurting their back, because the muscles are tired after all that raking, you go to get up from that soft chair, and your back goes out!

Instead, when you’re done, do a little cool down walk for 5 or 10 minutes. Also, be cautious about bending forwards right away afterwards, like when you take off your shoes. Sit down while you do this, to minimize the forward bending stress on your low back.

9. Recruit someone to help you with the leaves!

This is my favourite recommendation of all. If you know someone young and spry, ask them to help. Good for them, and good for your back!

If you follow all these tips, you’re much more likely to enjoy the fall, and raking all those leaves, and way less likely to hurt afterwards.

Dr. Byron Mackay 

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