Rake and pile of leaves

Seasonal Raking Tips!

There are a million of them and only one of you. So when it comes to raking leaves, do it right for the sake of your spine, says Dr. Don Nixdorf, executive director of the B.C. Chiropractic Association. While raking isn’t up there with diving into shallow water as a peril, it can still aggravate a lot of previously existing spine, shoulder, and neck conditions. Many sedentary people still think they can rake leaves non-stop until the job is done, and end up risking injury because of it, he adds. Thirty percent of medical appointments involve the spine, neck, and shoulder, so he stresses the importance of preventing flare-ups or new strains.

“Don’t be a weekend warrior,” warns Saanich physiotherapist Shannon Bourassa, adding that people aged 40 to 60 are the most likely to be injured. They’re determined to “get the job done as efficiently as possible” when their bodies just can’t take it. And they keep raking even when they start to hurt. Improper raking involves too much twisting and turning in one direction while reaching too far with the rake and rotating too much through the trunk, she says.

But there are many ways to minimize raking aches, pains, and injuries. Before you even hit the yard, check that your rake is the right size. At six feet, Bourassa uses an ergonomic rake: “The grips are larger so there’s less chance of elbow tendinitis.” A rake that’s too short increases the chance of lower back injury for tall people, because they are forced to bend too much. A rake that’s too tall for a short person will be awkward to manoeuvre and present more chance of a shoulder injury. Ideally, the rake should be as high as your nose and no higher than your forehead. She suggests people warm up before raking with a brisk walk. That way, you get the blood flowing and the heart rate increasing; break a bit of a sweat before you get to work. Nixdorf still recommends gentle stretches of the spine from head to pelvis — forward, backward, bending left, bending right, and turning fully left, turning fully right, at least five times in each of those six directions, as slowly and comfortably as you can.

Why think of raking only as work? Why not relax and enjoy it? It’s “a really healthy way to enjoy the outdoors and move your body,” says Bourassa. Making raking a group effort on a beautiful day is even better.

Raking Tips

  • No matter how warm the day, don’t rake in flip flops, physiotherapist Shannon Bourassa advises. Wear supportive shoes with good treads. “You want to make sure your ankles are supported if there is uneven terrain. You don’t want to sprain your ankle.”
  • Switch often to your non-dominant hand and share the raking. Do five rakes a side and then switch.
  • Spread your legs to widen your base of support when you rake. Transfer weight from one leg to the other as you pull the leaves close to you.
  • Don’t overstretch to reach the leaves. Walk over to the leaves rather than leaning far forward and pulling, Dr. Don Nixdorf says.
  • Wear gloves. Blisters can happen in minutes. Leaves on the ground can also have insects lurking among them that want to take a nip out of you. Watch how you are holding the rake so you can minimize blisters.
  • Last but not least, don’t overdo it and get a heart attack. Scope the amount of work you have in front of you and only do what you can handle given your health and fitness.
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