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OMB (Oh My Back)

"OMB!"- Oh My Back!

The fall season is probably the most beautiful time of the year; leaves change to bright colors, weather is ideal for outdoor activities, and no mosquitoes to swat. However, we all know that fall brings one definite chore to most of us...racking leaves! This daunting task can take several hours or days to complete, especially if you own a large lot with plenty of trees (and not to mention the leaves that the wind blows over from your neighbor's side).

Many folks do not look forward to raking leaves because they fear this activity may cause back pain and stiffness. The pain may settle down very quickly, but may also linger on for several weeks.  It almost becomes a yearly tradition; autumn back pain!

Fortunately there are ways to avoid or minimize the strain on your back. This blog offers you some suggestions on how to adapt the task of raking so you can enjoy it instead of fearing it.

The "perfect posture" does not exist, at work or at home (read our blog on posture at work). Staying in the same position for too long will create tension and pressure on muscles, ligaments and joints. It's similar to pulling your finger back. It will hurt after a while and once you let go, the pain goes away (and no injury to your finger!). You'll want to change your posture at the first sign of fatigue or tightness. For example, you can choose to bend down using your back or legs while collecting dead leaves on the ground.

The job of raking leaves usually involve different tasks: raking the leaves, making piles of leaves, putting the leaves in bags, and moving the bags to another location. The natural instinct is to complete one task and move to the next until you finish with the last one. Why not "bundle" the tasks together and let your body work in different ways. Divide your land in sections and clean one area at a time by completing the full cycle of tasks.

Raking leaning your body forward will put a strain on your back muscles very quickly. In this position, your back muscles are working very hard to stop you from falling forward. A bit of strain is not a bad thing, but holding too long can cause soreness. How to fix this? Keep your back upright, spread your legs a bit more in a stride stance (one foot in front of the other) and shift your weight from the back leg to the front leg. This technique will allow you to rake the leaves towards you without exerting excessive strain on your back. 

Back Dominant Effort Leg Dominant Effort

You will most likely need to bring the bags of leaves from point A to point B. Most people will carry the bags. You know that one bag of dead leaves is very light to carry, but consider this; how far you need to walk, how often will you need to do it, are you walking on flat or slanted terrain? Back pain may sneak up on you from doing repetitive tasks. You would be better off, using a wheelbarrow to carry (multiple) bags to reduce the load on your back.

I'm assuming that you're not competing against your neighbor to see who finishes first. In that case, what's the rush to get it done quickly? Why not allocate blocks of time over several days so you can finish the chore pain-free? You should also take frequent breaks during the day. How many breaks should you take? Or how many days or weeks should you take to complete the chore? It all depends on age, general fitness level, size of lot, current injuries, and other health conditions. Basically, listen to your body. If you need to take a break, then stop.

Still feel back ache and stiffness from raking leaves? This might be the case if you're not used to regular exercise. A hot pack may help relieve your back pain. You don't have one at home? No problem!  Watch the video to learn how to make a homemade hot pack!


Author- Marco is a physiotherapist with a career extending over 21 years. His main clinical interest is the treatment of back pain. He completed his Bachelor of Science (Physiotherapy) at Université Laval (Quebec City) in 1996 and his Masters of Clinical Science (Manipulative Therapy) in 2009 at Western University (London, Ontario). He became a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Manipulative Physiotherapy (FCAMPT) in 2009. His treatment philosophy is to empower his patients so that they become self-reliant mostly thru education and active rehab program. "Exercise is the best remedy."