4 Leaf Raking Tips to Protect Your Spine

Chiropractor Scott Bautch provides advice how to protect your back and neck from injury while raking leaves.

It’s easy to overlook the everyday tasks that can cause back and neck pain. And when the crisp fall air rolls around, one of the biggest spinal offenders is leaf raking. At its core, leaf raking is a form of exercise. Staying active is great for your spine, but doing it the wrong way can have the opposite effect.

SpineUniverse asked Scott Bautch, DC, DACBOH, CCST, CCSP, media spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association, and past Chairman and CEO of Allied Health Chiropractic Centers in Wausau, WI, for his best advice on how to protect your back while corralling your leaves this fall.
Woman in red boots raking fall leaves with a rake.When raking leaves think about adding variety into your posture. Pulling and twisting repetitively is hard on your back and may cause back sprain and strain. Photo Source: 123RF.com.

Tip 1: Don’t Stay in the Same Position

Dr. Bautch says when raking, as with any activity, think about adding variety into your posture. Planting your foot, and pulling and twisting in a repetitive motion is hard on your back. Repetition can eventually cause back sprain and strain, and stress out your neck and shoulders.

“The perfect raking position involves your ankles, knees, hips, arms—moving as many body parts as possible,” Dr. Bautch says.

Dr. Bautch explains the ideal raking stance: Step your right foot forward and left foot back for 5 to 10 pulls, then reverse (left foot forward, right foot back). He also notes that you should pull the rake back with your whole body, not just your upper body.

The key he says, is changing positions—and don’t wait until you’re tired to do it.

“Think of the Rule of Opposites: If you lean left, then lean right,” Dr. Bautch says. “Whatever motion you’re in, take a 5-second stretch the opposite way.”

Tip 2: Give Yourself a Break

Small breaks are important to injury prevention, Dr. Bautch says, but overambitious weekend warriors often tackle too much yard work into a single session. 

“We have such a short window in the season to rake leaves that we want to do the whole thing at once,” he says. “But that leaves ourselves vulnerable to injury.”

The problem, in part, is that you may not feel pain while you’re raking. But pushing yourself too far, such as raking for 6 hours straight, will cause inflammation in your muscles and joints.

Dr. Bautch has no hard-and-fast time limit for raking, as people’s fitness levels vary. However, he says 15 to 30 minutes of raking followed by a short break is a good rule of thumb.

“If you work out, and you’re healthy, you can rake longer,” he says. “But if you’ve had an injury, keep it in mind—don’t get so caught up in raking all your leaves at once.”

While taking a rest or water break is always a good idea, taking “active” breaks is excellent, too. Dr. Bautch says doing a different task between raking sessions, such as cleaning a flower bed, refreshes your posture and spine.

And, when you’re done raking, make sure you bend at your knees to pick up your leaves to prevent straining your back.

Tip 3: Dress for Movement and Weather

Autumn weather runs the full spectrum and shifts quickly. Wearing a hat and layers will keep you comfortable outdoors. Your clothes should also allow you to move freely.

Supportive shoes are important, as good foot support can prevent back pain and minimize injury. Gloves also go a long way to offering a firm, supportive hand grip while preventing blisters.

Tip 4: Use the Strap and Gloves if Using a Leaf Blower

If you prefer a leaf blower over a rake, Dr. Bautch says a few accessories are essential.

“Always use the strap that comes with leaf blower, so you don’t just use your arms,” he says. “Also, if the handles don’t fit you correctly, and you have to squeeze hard, use gloves to help support your grip.”
Man using portable leaf blowerUsing a leaf blower is an alternative to raking leaves. Photo Source: 123RF.com.The blower strap should rest on the opposite shoulder from the side of your body that the device is closest. And, just like raking, make sure you switch the blower to different sides of your body every few minutes, and keep moving your body as opposed to staying in the same position.

Simple Steps Pay Off

Keep moving, take breaks, dress appropriately, and use ergonomic accessories—all simple steps that make a big difference to your back and neck health. Keep these tips in mind the next time you work outdoors to keep your yard looking great and your spine feeling even better.

Updated on: 08/27/19
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