Fall has officially started and we all know what that means – leaves, leaves, and more leaves. Soon enough you’ll be spending every weekend picking up leaves from your backyard and dragging them to the street. Every year we have many patients come in during the Fall due to injuring their back and neck from raking leaves, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Listed below are the topics that will be discussed:
- What are the effects of improper body mechanics on our bodies?
- What are the proper body mechanics for raking and lifting?
Effects of Improper Body Mechanics on the Body
According to a recent study, one in ten people suffer from low back pain which makes it the world’s leading cause of disability.1 Bending and rotating repetitively or for extended periods of time, as well as lifting improperly, can cause increased pressure to your back, increasing your chance for injury.
Before we can understand how improper body posture can cause pain, let’s first review the anatomy of our back. Our spine consists of three parts, cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back) and lumbar (low back) and there are discs that sit between each vertebra in our spine. These discs, which we often describe as “jelly donuts”, act as shock absorbers and help to disperse the load as we move. Too much pressure on the front of our discs can cause the jelly portion to move backward, possibly causing a bulging disc or a disc herniation.
Our discs are designed to handle loads while we are standing upright, but are not designed to handle loads when bent forward or rotated. Compared to standing upright, the pressure on our discs when bent forward increases to more than 50% and it increases to more than 125% when you bend forward while lifting weighted objects.2 Even worse, the pressure on our discs when we bend forward and rotate at the same time increases to more than 400%!2
Knowing these facts, we can better understand how raking leaves and lifting without proper body mechanics can significantly impact your chances of suffering from a back injury. Although the back is able to bend and rotate, it was not made to do so for extended periods of time. Most of that movement should be coming from our hips, allowing our back to stay neutral (straight).
Proper Body Mechanics for Raking and Lifting
Clearing leaves from your backyard includes two main tasks: raking and lifting. Although these tasks seem easy, when you are repetitively bending forward, rotating, and lifting without proper posture you are putting much more pressure on your back than it can withstand. Luckily, there is a way that you can prevent yourself from injury – maintaining proper body mechanics.
Whenever you have to bend forward, you should always work on maintaining a neutral spine and bending from your hips as opposed to your back. The best way to achieve a neutral spine while raking leaves is holding the rake close to your body with one hand at the top of the handle and the other hand lower with the elbow slightly bent.
Also, since your hip and leg muscles are much stronger than your back and arm muscles, make sure that you are not pulling the leaves back with your arms but rather using your legs and hips to pull the leaves towards you. In order to do this, you should be stepping with the rake and avoiding reaching away from your body or bending forward to reach leaves further away. Even though this may increase the amount of time it takes to finish, it will prevent you from injuring your back and needing to go to physical therapy for a few months to recover.
Along with needing to rake the leaves properly, we also need to pick up and move those leaves properly as well. Just like when you bend forward, it is always important to maintain a neutral spine when lifting and to move from your hips rather than your back. It is also important that you use your hip and leg muscles when lifting up rather than your back and arm muscles. In order to do this, squat down by gliding your hips backwards and keeping your back straight. Once you have grabbed the pile or bag of leaves, glide your hips forward and stand up straight using your leg muscles. This will help prevent too much pressure on your back and allow you to finish without pain.
Although these strategies may cause you to take more time than usual, they will help you to stay injury-free throughout the Fall season (at least in regards to yard work!). If you are interested in getting a more customized approach then click the link below. Buffalo Rehab Group is currently offering free consultations by our Physical Therapists. If you are currently suffering from pain or would like to know more about proper lifting techniques, then a free discovery visit is your next step! Click the link below!
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Hoy, D. et all. The global burden of low back pain: estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. 2014; 73(6).
Nachemson, Alf, and Elfstrom, G. Intravital dynamic pressure measurements in lumbar discs. Scand J Rehabil Med Suppl. 1970; 1, 1-40.