Those glorious crimson-hued sugar maples and bronze chestnut oaks. Not to mention the golden yellow aspens and poplars. Yes, Mother Nature’s autumn display is surely a delight to the eyes. But when all of those leaves hit the ground, fall can also leave us with a big pain — literally.
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When it comes to minimizing our risk for a suffering a leaf-raking injury, chiropractor Andrew Bang, DC, says it’s best to avoid twisting your back.
Use the proper raking technique
“Focus your motion in your arms and shoulders, so that as you stand and rake the leaves, you’ll avoid the twisting and pulling with your back. Use your arms to twist and pull,” Dr. Bang explains.
Twisting is the most dangerous, he says, because it can damage the protective coating of the discs in your back. Even just a 2º forced twist can cause injury to the fibers around the discs.
There’s also a compressive motion that happens every time we bend over to pick leaves up, and a motion which occurs during the back and forth motion of the rake. Dr. Bang says any of these motions can result in different types of back injury, especially to the lower back. The lowest part of our back is the most vulnerable part of the spine, because it gets the most amount of pressure as we bend forward, twist or move side to side.
It’s not the weight, but wearing yourself out
Doctors typically see fewer injuries from fall leaf-raking than winter snow shoveling — mainly because snow is heavier than leaves.
However, Dr. Bang points out that a yard is typically larger than a driveway. It’s not so much the weight, but the time spent cleaning up that increases fatigue and puts people at risk for injury.
The solution? He recommends splitting the job up over a couple of days.
“If they rake one day, and then literally cover it with a tarp and go back and do all the bending and lifting the next day, this can reduce their chance for injury, especially if they have a history of low back pain,” Dr. Bang says.
It’s better to prevent than have to treat back pain
Dr. Bang says 40 percent of adults will experience some sort of back pain in their lifetime — and it usually happens more than once. Over time, a recurrent injury can cause post-traumatic arthritis, which can result in problems for life.
It’s better to avoid the pain rather than to try and treat it once it’s there, he counsels.
“There’s a couple of things to remember,” Dr. Bang says. “Number one: Rake with your arms — not with your back. Number two: Lift with your legs, not with your back. Number three: Use tools to help, like long rakes and leaf-blowers. And number four: Make piles one day, pick up the piles of leaves the next day to give yourself a rest and not overdo it.”