In many places, fall weather means falling leaves. As you break out your rake for the impending autumn yard work, keeping a few tips in mind will help you preserve your back.
Raking is predominantly considered a chore, but it’s also a workout. You work the large muscles in your arms and legs as you move across the yard, pulling leaves toward you and loading them into lawn bags. This gives you both muscular and cardiovascular exercise. Approaching this task as an exercise rather than a chore will help you avoid back pain by focusing on form and body mechanics.
The following steps should be taken before, during and after your raking workout:
1. Warm up.
While not an Olympic sport, raking requires enough muscle use and joint range of motion to validate a good stretch beforehand. Before activity, it is better to do dynamic stretches (involving movement) than static stretches (done while holding still); dynamic stretching better prepares the muscles and joints for action. Side bends with arms in the air, upper body rotations and standing knee-to-chest stretches are good warm-ups for the back, arms, legs and core. If you have a large yard to rake, consider taking a 5-10 minute walk to increase blood flow first.
2. Use the right tool.:
Your rake should fit your body. If the shaft is too short, you will end up hunched over. Make sure you can grip the shaft comfortably from an upright position. Ergonomic rakes are on the market that feature a D-grip style handle partway down the rake’s shaft; this allows for increased leverage and less movement while raking.
3. Limit twisting.
When most people rake, they’re prone to twisting their bodies to reach the leaves around them. One small movement repeated many times can lead to pain; when it comes to twisting, lower back pain is a common result of such repetition. Moving to the leaves will allow some of the burden to be placed on the legs rather than the back.
4. Bend properly.
Two adages are relevant here: Bend at the hips, not at the waist; Lift with the legs, not with the back. When you reach for leaves with the rake, you want to bend as little as possible. What bending you do should occur at the hips while the spine remains neutral. Think of your hips as a hinge between your upper and lower body. When bending down to pick leaf piles up, bend your knees to get you down low and use the power of your legs to lift.
5. Slow down.
While an activity that doubles as a chore and an exercise might not be the most appealing, it’s important not to rush through raking. Rushing renders you susceptible to improper body mechanics. Try to find things to help you slow down. Save raking for when you have plenty of time. Take a 10-15 minute break for every hour you’re raking. Put some music on. Find a way to make this activity leisurely.
6. Cool down.
Now it’s time for those static stretches. Check out the slideshow at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stretching/SM00043 for some basic static stretches you can do once the yard is all clear. This will allow muscles to pump out waste products of work and draw in fresh blood.
Improper body mechanics will haunt your back throughout all your activities. Start fall off right by preventing lower back pain while raking.
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