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Raking: Protecting Your Back and Shoulders

Temperatures aren’t the only thing that’s falling… and those leaves won’t rake themselves. This time of year, our clinic sees a spike in patients with low back pain from raking and hauling leaves. Protect your back and shoulders by learning to rake and lift correctly so you don’t have to see us! Today, I’ll show you how to:

  • Rake with proper form
  • Lift correctly to avoid back and shoulder injury

Proper Raking Form

The most common reason for low back injury is… improper use of the low back! The low back is designed to be a stable structure that sits on top of the pelvis and hips. The hips are designed to mobile and powerful. Most individuals repeatedly bend through their spine and keep their hips immobile when raking leaves. Use the big muscles in your hips while raking to offload unnecessary force from your low back. Squatting and lunging patterns will help you use your legs rather than your spine.

Take small steps and don’t use the full handle of the rake unless you’re reaching to a hard to get spot in your yard. If you’re reaching to the full length of the rake handle every time, you’re putting more torque on your low back and significantly increasing your risk of injury. Keep your work area small so you don’t reach repeatedly and you can maintain good form even as you tire. Take breaks every 10-20 minutes to let your muscles recover! A majority of injuries are overuse related and can be avoided by letting muscles replenish energy stores so they make function optimally.

Proper Lifting Form

We’ve all heard the shameless plug; “lift with your legs, not your back”, but this is like telling a pro athlete where to spend their money – it’s easier said than done. So here’s what you need to know in order to lift well and avoid injury.

  1. Your hips are stronger than your knees, use them
  2. Your back is the weak link, avoid bending with it
  3. Your “core” muscles protect your back and help your hips

Everyone will look a little different when lifting properly, but here are a few global truths:

  1. Your spine must be straight – not necessarily perpendicular to the ground
  2. Bend more at your hip joint than with your knees
  3. Keep your heels planted on the ground – if your heel lifts, many muscles around your hip can’t help as well

Here’s my favorite exercise to practice good lifting form. It strengthens the glutes, hamstrings, and core.

The Romanian Deadlift

  1. Begin with light weight and hold dumbbell or kettlebell in hands
  2. Drive your bottom backwards as you bend at the hip
  3. Bend your knees slightly, keeping them behind your shoe laces
  4. Keep your spine straight as you lean forward
  5. Keep the weight close to your body and end at or just below your knees

Until Silicon Valley finds a way to make an affordable robot that rakes our lawns for us, we’ll be stuck with the task. Practice your raking and lifting form as outlined above and take breaks to let your muscles recover appropriately. Think of these like “sets” of an exercise. Happy raking!

Check out this quick video for a demonstration of proper raking and lifting form.

If you’d like to learn more about how to avoid injuries while raking or would like to speak directly with one of our Physical Therapists, you can schedule your free appointment here



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