Don’t let raking leaves become a pain in the neck, back or spine

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Raking leaves is a chore many homeowners dread every fall.

Not only is it hard work, it can also be a literal pain.

The repetitive motions involved in raking can stress your body, leading to a musculoskeletal injury, or injuries that affect your ability to move. It can be especially risky for anyone who has a history of problems related to the heart, lungs, bones, joints or spine.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), doctors treated more than 42,000 raking-related injuries in 2014.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says herniated discs in the neck or low back are common, as are muscle strains in the back, arms and legs.

Most of these injuries are from poor technique or overdoing it – especially if you aren’t used to strenuous exercise.

Follow these tips to help prevent injuries while raking leaves this fall:

  • Use a comfortable rake.
  • Wear sturdy, slip-resistant shoes.
  • Stand up straight as you rake.
  • Bend from your knees.
  • Switch your arm and leg positions, trading sides every few minutes.
  • Be careful on slippery, wet leaves.
  • Lift only as much as you can comfortably carry.
  • Don’t wrench or twist too severely.
  • Go slowly.
  • Take several breaks as you work.
  • Stretch for 10 minutes after you’re done.

If you’re using a leaf blower instead of a rake, check the equipment before you use it for the first time, and get any necessary repairs.

You should also be careful if you’re planning to clean out your gutters this fall. There were more than 500,000 ladder-related injuries in 2014, the CPSC says.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has these safety tips for gutter cleaning:

  • Inspect the ladder for loose screws, hinges or rungs and clean off any mud or liquids.
  • Place the ladder on a firm and level surface. Look out for spots that are soft or muddy.
  • Follow the 1-to-4 rule. Keep the bottom of the ladder one foot away from the wall for every four feet that the ladder rises.
  • Wear the right clothes and shoes. Avoid shoes with leather soles, because they can be slippery. Don’t wear pants with legs that are too wide or too long.
  • Avoid using a ladder outside if it’s rainy, windy or there are other weather conditions that could increase the risk of slipping and falling.
  • Stay in the center of the ladder as you climb up, and be careful not to lean too far to one side when you are working.

By following these tips, you can help avoid injuries and accidents and make sure your fall season remains full of happy memories instead of painful ones.

If you have back or neck pain, find out what may be causing it and get recommendations on how to treat it by taking a free back pain assessment at askAAMC.org/SpineHealth

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