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5 tips to avoid injury while raking, doing fall cleanup

Wet leaves and uneven terrain create the perfect conditions for slips and falls. Wear comfortable, supportive shoes with a tread, and well-cushioned socks to prevent injuries and blisters.  (Dreamstime)
Wet leaves and uneven terrain create the perfect conditions for slips and falls. Wear comfortable, supportive shoes with a tread, and well-cushioned socks to prevent injuries and blisters. (Dreamstime)
By Ashley Blake Greenblatt Tribune News Service

The fall foliage creates a beautiful sight. But when those leaves start to form layers on your lawn, the arduous task of raking, bagging and dragging them to the curb isn’t as pleasant. Yard work may feel like a chore, but it is really more of a total-body workout.

And when done incorrectly, the prolonged hours spent at awkward angles, or bending improperly, can quickly wreak havoc on the body.

Stay safe while doing your yard work this season with the following five simple cleanup tips:

Choose a rake that’s right

While it may seem that all rakes are the same, there are multiple varieties to choose from. When purchasing your rake, be sure it’s one that is appropriate for the job, and more important, well-suited for your height.

When your rake is too short or too tall, or very heavy to lift, you run the risk of straining the neck, arms and lower back. The rake’s handle should reach the bridge of your nose and allow enough room to space your hands while holding it. Stop by your local garden center to test out a few options and ask a store associate for help if you’re unsure.

When you’re using the best rake for the job, and one that’s comfortable to work with, you’ll complete your yard work safely and more efficiently.

Get in gear

Wet leaves and uneven terrain create the perfect conditions for slips and falls. Wear comfortable, supportive shoes with a tread and well-cushioned socks to prevent injuries and blisters.

You’ll also want a buffer between your hands and the elements. Gloves protect from cuts and scrapes as well as guard your hands from the discomfort of holding your rake’s handle for long stretches of time.

Warm up cold muscles

Do a few light stretches before engaging in physical activity to loosen up your muscles.

• Hamstring hold: Stand tall with the feet hip width apart and flat on the floor. Bend at the knee to pull the foot back toward the glutes. Try to keep the knees in contact. Hold for 20 counts, then switch legs.

• Calf stretch: Stand near a sturdy base such as a wall or tree. Take a big step back with the right leg, bend the left knee and keep the hind leg straight. Feel a deep stretch in the back of the extended leg. Hold here for 20 seconds, then repeat on the opposite leg.

•March in place: Pump the arms and legs for 30 seconds to increase your heart rate and circulation.

Do not twist while raking

As with any physical activity, proper posture and form are essential for protecting the body. It’s important to avoid planting the feet while twisting and pulling. This sort of repetitive motion places a lot of pressure on the lower back, which ultimately leads to sprains and strains, plus considerable stress on the neck.

A safer raking routine is one in which the entire body is helping with the workload. Though it may appear that raking is an upper-body activity, it’s the lower body that should be taking the lead. Follow this four-point raking checklist to ensure your form is correct:

• Keep the back straight with the shoulders aligned over the hips.

• The legs are staggered with one foot in front of the other, with a slight bend at the knees. This will help evenly distribute your weight between both legs and prevent straining the back or knees. Momentum should come from the legs rather than the upper body. Switch up which foot is in front to prevent overuse injuries.

• For better leverage, maintain one hand at the top at the rake, switching hands every few minutes. Keep the rake close to the body to avoid hyperextending the upper body.

• Avoid bending forward at the waist. Instead, move the entire body with each sweeping motion. Take breaks every 10 to 15 minutes to rest your muscles.

Lift with your legs

Hauling bags of leaves or picking up plump pumpkins is hard work. And so often, when lifting these hefty objects, we mindlessly bend at the waist and yank up in a jerky motion. It only takes one time to hurt your back. The best way to avoid this common blunder is by learning the right way to lift.

• Position the feet wide for a greater support base.

• Never bend at the waist. Rather, squat down by hinging back at the hips and bending the knees.

• Keep the heavy object close to the body when lifting.

• Slowly lift by straightening the knees and hips – not your back. Similar to raking, never twist when lifting. Keep the shoulders over the hips and back straight, bracing the core muscles.

In addition to these tips, don’t fill leaves to the brim of the bag. By lightening your load, you will make it easier to transport.

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