Month: October 2016

  • Written by Dr. Andrew Beardslee

    ​At Premier Physical Therapy we often see an increase in low back pain in the fall season which is occasionally related directly to the raking of leaves.  As we enjoy the beauty of the falls colors, it’s important to consider proper technique for raking of leaves as you clean up your yard this autumn.

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    ​First to anatomically discuss why raking of leaves can cause injury, let’s consider the body structures and movement associated with raking.

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    ​The vertebrae are the bones which make up your spine, and they are stacked on top of each other with soft rings of cartilage between them known as vertebral discs.  In the spaces between the vertebrae in the lumbar spine there are nerves which exit the sides of the spinal cord to form nerves of the legs.  Movements of forceful rotation (especially when coupled with extension of the back) can put excessive stress on the discs and create bulging of the discs against the nerves.  This pain, often referred to as sciatica, can cause dramatic sharp shooting pain and/or tingling down the legs.

    ​Pain can also be caused when muscles that attach along the vertebrae become stuck in painful spasm, which can be so extreme a person can be nearly unable to move at all without pain.  These spasms often occur because segments of the vertebrae become locked into position rather than smoothly flexing on each other.

    Raking particularly puts a person at risk for these issues due to the repetitive movement and tendency to create non-symmetric lumbar rotation.  To reduce risk of the back injuries listed above, aiming for symmetric movement and limiting rotation is recommended.

    • Warm up: Exercising cold muscles increases risk of injury.  A brisk walk prior to raking would be a great method to warm up.
    • Posture: Proper posture is of utmost importance.  Keeping the knees slightly bent, but the lumbar spine not bent too far forward reduces stress on vertebral segments.
    • Abdominal bracing: Engage the abdominal muscles, such as if bracing when expecting to be hit in the stomach.  This provides the necessary stabilization of the lumbar spine to reduce lumbar strain.
    • Symmetry: Avoid the tendency to only rake one direction consistent with your handedness.  Change hand positions. You can alternate hand positions or what side of your body you are holding the rake to ensure you are using your back muscles evenly and not overworking one side.
    • Know your body: If this level of activity is not something you have done recently, break it into small portions of the yard over several days.  When over-fatigued, the body is more likely to experience injury.

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