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Pain-Free, Fall Cleanup

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Pain-Free, Fall Cleanup

Cooler temperatures, Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations, and the emergence of yellow, orange. and red leaves can only mean one thing- fall has arrived! With this change of seasons comes the laborious task of preparing the yard for winter. And of all the tasks needing to be accomplished outside, none is quite as dreaded as the raking of leaves. But why do so many people mumble and groan about raking? Perhaps it's the high incidence of shoulder, neck, or back pain that accompanies that first round of fall raking. 

Here are some helpful tips, not only to decrease your risk of injury, but also to make the most use of your time in the yard. 

WEATHER: Rake when it is dry outside, as leaves are much lighter when not wet. Avoid raking on a windy day. Chances are the wind will work against you by disrupting your nice, tidy piles. 

TOOLS: Use a sturdy rake with a board head and flexible points that is specifically designated a "leaf rake." Avoid using the metal garden rakes, as they can tear up the ground and make your task much more difficult. 

TIMING: Wait to rake until all the leaves have fallen. Until then, just keep sidewalks and pathways clear. 

GET HELP: If possible, get the kids involved. This creates an opportunity for more family time while cutting down on the amount of bending you have to do. 

ALTERNATIVE TO RAKING: Consider mulching some, if not all, of the leaves with either a power mulcher or lawnmower to replenish nutrients back into the soil. 

Most importantly, follow these techniques to protect your spine and shoulders:

  • Keep the rake close to your body. This enables you to make quicker, shorter strokes. 
  • Keep the rake almost perpendicular to the ground (at roughly a 65-85 degree angle) to maximize more of the rake tips. 
  • Do not bend at the waist. Instead, keep your body upright and move with the rake, almost as if you are dancing with it. 
  • Change hand positions frequently, alternating your top and bottom hands. 
  • When bending, keep your back straight and come down into a squat versus bending at the hips. Coming down in a lunge position is also a viable alternative. 
  • To avoid overly frequent bending, rake the leaves onto a tarp and then pull the tarp to a compote pile. 

Starting with a quick warm-up of key muscle groups can also reduce your risk of injury. Start with these simple exercises before picking up the rake:

  • Go for a brisk walk down the street or in the yard; aim for 10 minutes
  • Standing back bends: Support your low back with your hands and arch backwards as far as you can. Perform 10 times. 
  • Lunges: Stand with one foot in front of the other. Drop the back knee to the ground and push back up into the starting position. Perform 10 times on each leg.
  • Standing trunk rotations: Holding the rake on your shoulders, twist as far as you can, to the right and then to the left. Perform 10 times in each direction. 

Take frequent breaks, especially if you are not used to physical labor. Performing the standing back bends and trunk rotations every 30 minutes will help keep your back from stiffening up. And remember, it doesn't all have to get done in one day! 

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