How to Rake Leaves, Shovel Snow, and Protect Your Back
The seasons are changing, and that means people all over the Midwest will be searching for their rakes – and soon after, their shovels. Many of our fall and winter patients come to IMPACT Physical Therapy and Chicago Recovery Room after a long day raking leaves or shoveling snow. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. With the proper raking and shoveling techniques and tools, you can minimize the risk of back injury.
Remember, if you have a history of back pain, consult with your doctor or physical therapist on tasks like raking and shoveling. Even with the correct posture and form, it may be best for you to get help from a family member or neighbor.
Whether you stretch before or after your workout, you probably already know that you should plan to stretch when you exercise. Before you even go looking for that rake (or shovel), you should remember that spending an hour or two clearing your yard or driveway is exercise; it might be more exercise than you’ve done in a while.
Before You Start
Wear comfortable clothes you can move freely in. Wear gloves to protect your hands from calluses and blisters.
Start with some basic stretches, and try to get in a brisk walk to warm up.
Find your rake or shovel. If you’ve stowed it somewhere difficult to reach, use a stepladder or ask for help rather than risk an injury before you even start.
Use an ergonomic rake or shovel if you have one (it will have a curvy or S-shaped design)
Consider making shoveling or raking a regular task. It’s easier to shovel 2 inches of snow after it falls than 6 inches after it’s compacted.
Similarly, rake leaves often to avoid any build up, and avoid raking after a rain.
Tips for Safe Raking and Shoveling
Use both hands when raking or shoveling, and switch your lead arm and leg regularly to avoid overworking one side of your body.
Keep your legs slightly bent, and try to keep your back straight.
Reach with your arms, and keep your strokes short.
Move from your hips to reach the areas around you, and if you need to pivot, avoid twisting or shuffling.
Don’t treat it like a competition. It’s easy to push more snow onto your shovel than you can safely lift or stretch a rake further than you can comfortably reach.
Take frequent breaks, and have water at the ready to stay hydrated.
Don’t Delay Caring for Your Back
If you’re looking for physical therapy to treat your back injury, you’re in the right place! Even the most prepared person can injure themselves while shoveling or raking. Physical therapy can help manage that pain, strengthen your back muscles, and give you the tools you need to take better care of your back in the future.
COLD PLUNGE FOR THE POLAR PLUNGE Now through March 2, we’ll donate 20% of your cold water immersion session to the 24th annual Chicago Polar Plunge benefitting Special Olympics Chicago. To participate, purchase a Recovery Session and select "Polar Plunge Donation." Then visit any of the following IMPACT clinics to take the plunge: Champaign, Hinsdale, Naperville, Oak Lawn, Orland Park, or South Loop.