Autumn days are upon us. Before you know it, we will be shovelling snow, but let’s not think about that just yet. First, we need to focus on getting through fall without flaring up old back pain or experiencing some new aches and pain. Many of us spend a lot of our autumn weekends raking leaves – it is a great way to spend time outside with our kids or just getting some good old fashioned exercise. But we need to be aware to avoid too much reaching, bending and carrying heavy bags which can place excessive loads on your spine, causing your back to ache.

The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) recommends using good posture and body mechanics, as well as adopting a good technique when raking leaves. It is also helpful to do stretches before and after raking your yard. Grant Gagnon, a Registered Physiotherapist at Pinnacle Physiotherapy (also a credentialed Mackenzie trained therapist) recommends to do standing back extensions, hamstring stretches, along with shoulder and hip flexor stretches. When finished for the day, take a few moments to cool down by doing the same exercises you did prior to raking.

Because raking is a very physical activity, it can lead to muscle soreness or injury. The most common areas for these injuries to occur are middle and low back. Any member of the team at Pinnacle can walk you through the stretches noted above and show you proper body mechanics while raking and bagging leaves. After all is said and done, if soreness persists for more than a few days, you should consult a physiotherapist.

Raking TIP as set out by the Canadian Physiotherapy Association

  • Hold the rake handle close to your body to help maintain good posture while raking. Keep one hand near the top for better leverage and use your arms and legs more than your back. Ergonomic rakes sold in garden centres and hardware stores have bent or side handles that are padded for less strain on the hands and wrists. This design ensures that the elbows are bent slightly and also encourages good posture
  • Change sides frequently and avoid twisting from the waist. When raking, the tendency is to plant the feet in a fixed position and to rake in several directions from that position. Instead, place one foot ahead of the other which allows you to shift forward and backward easily as you rake
  • Pace yourself. Section off larger yards so the job can be completed in stages rather than all at once
  • Lastly, take frequent breaks and/or change to a different activity

Bagging Tips

  • When bagging leaves, lift manageable loads. Keep you back straight and use your legs to do the lifting. If you have to stoop, face the pile of leaves and don’t twist as you lift.
  • When lifting the bag of leaves, tense your abdominal (stomach) muscles to give your back additional support and keep the bag close to your body. Keep your back straight while lifting with the legs.
  • Don’t pile too many leaves into one bag, especially if they are wet.

All of Pinnacle’s physiotherapists are registered and have the knowledge and skill to help relieve pain, increase mobility, build strength, improve balance, and increase cardiovascular function. If you have a heart condition or other medical concerns, please consult your physician before undertaking any physical activity.