Raking Leaves

So, you are thinking of taking the day to rake the leaves in your yard? Just to get it over with, you could work the whole yard in one afternoon, right? Well, this is potentially putting yourself at risk to injuring a body part; be it your shoulders, back, hips, or neck. Think wisely and avoid tendonitis or a strained muscle by choosing to rake those leaves in spurts. By this I mean, over a series of days or distinct time frames during 1-2 days or weeks. Gather your family members and make it a tradition of pitching in and doing it together to help spread the workload.

All too often we take household chores on by trying to squeeze too much into a short time frame; thereby making a challenge to finish. Moderation is the key to avoiding muscle pain and injury. Think of it this way, by pushing yourself too far, too fast, you could incur a life changing episode. You spend the better part of the winter nursing a sore limb or joint. This may lead you to a series of doctor’s, special tests like MRI’s, bone scans, etc. and more co-pays paid out.

We all would like to be doing other things other than figuring out how to heal quickly.

Consider if you currently have a sore joint, or if you are recuperating from a surgical procedure, or if you have not labored in the yard since spring, and how it would feel by worsening this condition? Common sense prevails: hire out, or ask for help. Your other choice is to do a little every day or so to spread the workload so you can recuperate before returning the next day. You may “check” your muscles the following morning by stretching and lengthening in bed before you rise. You may notice muscles you forgot you had that have stiffened. A great rule of thumb with physical exertion is if you perform any added level of activity that you are not accustomed, to stretch the same night, sometime before you hit the hay for some shut eye. Your next day will be seriously easier as stretching proves to help remove lactic acid from your muscle tissue.

Lactic acid is a by product from healthy, normal muscle contractions, or from extra labor intensive work you may subject yourself to. Lactic acid is also a waste product that is normal with muscle work. If you perform activities over and above the ability of your muscles’ regular performance, lactic acid will build up in those specific overused muscles creating “toxins” or stiffness following the activity. Stretching is the key to healthy return to normal muscle function.

So, if you plan to rake those red, yellow, and orange leaves into piles and bags, consider working for 15 – 30 minutes, and then resting for another 15 minutes. Before you re-start raking, check your muscle length of the major muscle groups by performing a few positions of stretching.

The first one I would suggest is while resting, allow your head to hang down as if bringing your chin to your chest. This checks your neck extensors, which are commonly strained and overworked. Secondly, I ask you to try reaching with hands together straight out in front of you. Now arch your back and tuck your chin as if you were to dive into a pool. This elongates your shoulder girdle muscles which you are using to rake with. Thirdly, I would highly recommend stretching your hamstring muscles which if tight, can create low back pain in 75% of the cases. You can perform this stretch a variety of ways. Choose one, or both listed here. One way is to place one leg up onto a step and bend forward leaning over the “up” leg. Another way is to bend forward from the waist with your legs apart or together. Keep your legs straight. You should feel the pull in the back of your legs and buttocks.

All of these stretches can be held for 5 -10 seconds each, 1 -3 times each. Simple as 1,2, and 3. This can be done in less than 2 minutes!

Hopefully, these techniques will help you from strains and pains, but also teach you about what your body can tolerate. If the stretch is painful or if the range of mobility is short, you may wish to return to the task when neither occurs. Remember, don’t hesitate, participate.