10 tips to keep you safe while raking

Autumn leaves provide us with a gorgeous display of vibrant colors that eventually fall to the ground, requiring some lawn maintenance. Before you reach for your rake, keep in mind that 76,000 people in the United States are injured every year while raking leaves or using manual garden tools. Many of these injuries include back strains or wrist strains due to the repetitive movements of raking.

“There are some simple steps you can take to keep safe while working in the yard this fall,” says Todd May PT, DPT, OMPT, Director of Rehab Services at McLaren Port Huron. “It’s all about planning ahead and being mindful of your movements.”   

1. Do a 10-minute warm up focusing on the neck, back, hips, torso, wrists and shoulders.
2. Use proper form. Bend your knees, keep your back straight and pull the rake towards you. Avoid twisting motions.   
3. Switch hands every few minutes to prevent overuse on one side of the body. 
4. Watch for trip hazards. Avoid laying rakes or other equipment on the ground where you can step on or trip over it. Be sure to check for fallen branches or sticks that can get in your way.
5. While lifting bags of leaves, keep your back straight and bend with the knees and hips. Keep the load light and stop working if you feel pain in your back.
6. Wear shoes with non-skid soles and adequate arch support. Keep in mind that wet leaves can be slick.
7. Wear gloves and long sleeves to prevent hand blisters and protect against any thorns or poisonous plants that you might collect.
8. Choose a rake that is appropriate for your size and strength. If your rake is too small, your back may be aching later in the day. If your rake is too heavy, you may find yourself tiring out quickly.
9. Stay hydrated and take frequent breaks. “A good rule of thumb is to take a 10 to 15-minute break for each hour of strenuous activity,” says Todd. “Your body will thank you later.”
10. When you’re done, take a slow walk around the yard or sit and stretch to relax and cool down your muscles.

If you think you’ve injured yourself after a vigorous day of fall cleanup, and rest, heat/ice or over-the-counter medications have not improved your pain or function, consider calling your primary care physician or checking out physical therapy. The team at McLaren Port Huron can work with you to address pain, improve function, improve strength, restore joint mobility, restore range of motion and help get you back doing the things you enjoy.