Rake up leaves safely: It's a workout

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The cool, crisp days of fall brought some colorful sunny days. With coming weekend, many of us still face another bout of raking up the leaves.

Tony Tye, Post-Gazette
Aliza Aasen, 14, and her mother, Sherry Aasen, spent part of a recent Sunday raking leaves in the front yard of their home on Hoodridge Drive in Mt. Lebanon. Raking is a good aerobic exercise and special care should be taken to prevent injury, doctors say.
Click photo for larger image.

Yet what may seem like just another routine odd job around the house is really a vigorous aerobic workout that involves prolonged repetitive motion, twisting, bending, lifting and carrying. Due to the physically strenuous nature of the work, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reminds those charged with the task to take proper safety measures to avoid injury.

"Raking leaves is tough exercise and if not done properly, can lead to painful musculoskeletal injury," said Dr. Alexander D. Blevens, orthopaedic surgeon and member, AAOS. "You want to protect your bones, they're the only ones you've got -- so remember to actually do all the things you've heard over the years -- bend from the knees, lift only what you can comfortably carry, don't wrench or twist yourself, and don't overdo it -- it's as simple as that."

Recent statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission show that Americans suffered nearly 28,000 injuries from raking last year, which required treatment in hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices and clinics. The improper use of yard tools, combined with overextension and overexertion of muscles, can increase susceptibility to musculoskeletal injury.

The AAOS offers the following tips:

Stretch. As with any physical activity, warm up your muscles for 10 minutes with light exercise. It is also essential to stretch your muscles after raking to relieve tension.

Conduct a yard walk-through. Prior to raking, it is important to pick up any fallen branches, tree limbs or debris that may cause you to trip and fall.

Use a rake that feels comfortable for your height and strength. Avoid using a rake that is too short or long. Allow space between your hands on the tool grip to increase your leverage. Wear gloves or use rakes with padded handles to help prevent blisters.

Pace yourself. Since raking is an aerobic activity, make sure to take frequent breaks and replenish fluids to prevent dehydration. If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or other signs of a heart attack, seek emergency care, such as by calling 911.

See what you are raking. Do not let a hat or scarf block your vision. Watch out for large rocks, low branches, tree stumps and uneven surfaces.

Vary movements when raking. To rake without strain, alternate your leg and arm positions often. When picking up leaves, bend at the knees, not the waist. Also, keep the leaf piles small, so you don't strain your back while gathering.

Exercise care walking on wet leaves. Wet leaves can be very slippery, so be careful when walking over them. Avoid falls by wearing shoes or boots with slip-resistant soles.

Avoid overfilling leaf bags, especially if the leaves are wet. You should be able to carry bags comfortably, so make sure they aren't too heavy or large.

Do not throw the leaves over your shoulder or to the side. This requires a twisting motion that places undue stress on your back.

For more information, visit the Web site, Your Orthopaedic Connection (www.orthoinfo.org/), or call the public service line at 800-824-BONES.


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