DALLAS, Oct. 20 – As millions of leaves descend upon our lawns, streets and gutters, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the raking season has arrived once again. Before heading out to the yard, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), a not-for-profit organization that represents 30,000 members of the athletic training profession, offers the following tips to ensure your cleanup effort is as injury-free and successful as possible. NATA’S TOP 10 RAKING TIPS
- Check Your Equipment. Make sure your rakes are in good working order and that leaf blowers fit properly in your hands or comfortably on your back depending upon the style and fit. Follow the manufacturer’s operating recommendations.
- Dress in Layers. Raking is a great cardiovascular activity and you’re sure to sweat if you do it for any length of time. Dress properly and wear layers of clothing (i.e. a light windbreaker or jacket, sweater, turtleneck), so you can comfortably adapt to the outdoor conditions throughout the day. Wear gloves to prevent blisters and hand injuries.
- Eat Smart and Stay Hydrated. Remember to eat a healthy snack and drink water or a sports drink before raking to ensure you have adequate energy. Replenishing fluids and staying hydrated throughout your cleanup is extremely important, even if it’s cool outside. You can dehydrate in any season, not just in hot weather.
- Warm Up Slowly. Do not just go outside and start raking. Your body needs a gradual adjustment to cool weather and the bending/pulling/walking and lifting motions typical in raking and leaf collection. Stretch gently to keep legs and arms limber. Try knee bends and arm stretches above and behind the head to loosen up. Take a walk around the block or on your property to warm up your legs and get your heart pumping. If you have a history of low back pain, consider wearing a back support for protection. The low back is the area at greatest risk for injury or strain during raking.
- Use Moderation. Even if you’re in great shape, raking can be a repetitive and unfamiliar motion since we only do it seasonally. Take adequate breaks and “divide and conquer.” If you have a large property to clear, be sensible about the length of time it will take to do the job well and thoroughly. Whether taking care of your own yard, or that of a colleague or friends, it’s important to “rake smart” to ensure you’re fit to do the job.
- Use a Steady Technique. When raking, use a steady, short pulling motion. To prevent shoulder and low back pain, use short strokes and bring the leaves close to the body to avoid overextending your reach. Step forward and back to give yourself extra leverage – don’t just plant your feet.
- Consider a Buddy System. Once you’ve raked the leaves into an organized pile(s), you may then need to pick them up (unless you’re fortunate enough to rake or blow them into the woods!) Consider a buddy system to lessen bending and lifting, which places extreme stress on the back. Make it a fun family or friend activity where one person holds the bag, the other rakes up the leaves, or vice versa.
- Listen to Your Body. If you feel discomfort or pain while raking, stop and rest. If the pain persists, seek immediate advice from a certified athletic trainer (ATC) or other medical professional. If you experience shortness of breath or chest pain, call 911.
- Be Prepared for the Aftermath. You may experience some soreness, aches, sprains or strains one or two days following raking. The best way to alleviate soreness is to do gentle stretches and perform light total body exercises. Warm baths and showers also help reduce aches and soreness. Sprains and strains require ice. It’s best to consult an ATC or other medical professional if symptoms persist.
- Bask in Your Own Glory. Don’t forget to celebrate a job well done. Enjoy some hot chocolate, warm cider or a favorite snack and give yourself a well-deserved rest (until the next time).
Marjorie J. Albohm, MS, LAT, ATC, director, Orthopaedic Research and Sports Medicine, Orthopaedics Indianapolis, who helped compile the above list, points out that transporting over-stuffed leaf bags can also create injury. “Use a wheel barrow or other transport device to move the bags,” she says. “Do not lift or drag them, especially multiple bags at one time.” About the NATA: Certified athletic trainers (ATCs) are unique health care providers who specialize in the prevention, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses that occur to athletes and the physically active. The National Athletic Trainers' Association represents and supports 30,000 members of the athletic training profession through education and research. www.nata.org. NATA, 2952 Stemmons Freeway, Ste. 200, Dallas, TX 75247, 214.637.6282; 214.637.2206 (fax). NATA supports Allied Health Professions Week, November 7 – 13, 2004. Go to www.healthprofnet.org for more information.