8 Safety tips for raking leaves this fall

Fall brings with it lovely foliage. As beautiful as the rainbow-coloured trees are, Some people would prefer to keep their yards looking pristine.

Raking seems like a simple chore but doing it incorrectly may lead to serious injury. The repetitive movements, rushing, or using the wrong equipment can be harmful.

Considering the ground conditions is also crucial. Raking right after the rain can leave the lawn slippery and the risk of tripping or falling increases. Here are tips to remember for safe leaf raking. 

  1. Warm up your muscles before raking. Stretching is an important preparation before raking. Spend at least 10 minutes warming up and stimulating blood flow throughout your body. This could be light mobility such as walks or stretching exercises for your back, legs, hips, shoulders, and arms. You’ll bend, rake, and lift repeatedly, so stretching will protect your muscles from strains.
  1. Use the right rake. Choose a lightweight rake that is the right size for your body and isn't too long or heavy. A wrong-sized rake can increase the chances of injury as it causes unnecessary muscle strain. A rake that’s too tall or large for you will make your body work harder. A lightweight rake, on the other hand, helps you maintain proper posture while raking. That said, keep the handle of the rake close to your body and your elbows slightly bent.
  1. Maintain proper raking posture. Stand upright and target debris near you. And switch from your dominant to non-dominant hand often. Then, make sure you bend at your knees when you’re working and not at your low back.  Instead of reaching too far and relying heavily on your shoulders and back, move to your side and let your whole body change position.
  1. Mind your feet and legs. Keep your legs slightly bent to distribute weight evenly. If you're standing with one foot in front of the other while working, switch positions of your feet regularly so that you don't overwork one side of your body. Don’t forget to wear appropriate shoes as the leaves, themselves, can be slippery. Pick shoes with good traction for greater stability.
  1. Avoid twisting your body. Repetitive twisting movements could strain your lower back or hips. Try to maintain proper posture with your back straight. When raking in a different direction, use your legs to shift your weight and body. Don’t twist your body or throw leaves over your shoulder.
  1. Limit your load. Try to lift smaller loads of leaves, especially if they’re wet and heavy. Don’t collect too much debris in one bag. Keep each load manageable and let your legs do the lifting, not your back. If you have a tarp, try to use it to pile leaves instead. If you must pick up any debris, face it directly instead of twisting your body.
  1. Take breaks. Raking increases the body’s use of oxygen, so don't overdo it. Take breaks to give some muscle groups rest, and don't work too quickly. The repetitive nature of raking can cause soreness after some time. Rest after every 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t try to finish everything in one go if there’s too much debris to clean. Divide your yard into sections and spread work into different days. It’s better to rake slowly than have to deal with an excruciating back for days.
  1. Dress the part. Your attire matters when you’re raking. Wear comfortable footwear to support your feet and prevent skids. Use gardening gloves as protection against thorns and to prevent blisters. Put on loose, breathable clothing, and apply sunscreen.

Done properly, raking could be a great way to sweat and exercise. But if the yard debris is too much to tackle on your own, ask for help from family members. Keep these safe raking practices in mind and don't ignore pain if it comes. That’s your body’s way of alerting you before any serious injuries occur. If the discomfort or soreness persists, consult with your doctor or physiotherapist in Halifax, Nova Scotia.