Raking and shovelling provide great exercise if done properly, however if done improperly they can seriously strain your upper/lower back, neck and shoulders. The movements involved in raking and shovelling can range from twisting, turning, bending, pulling and pushing. Through doing these different movements you are increasing the chance of straining the muscles involved. Moreover, since raking and shovelling are seasonal activities, you are probably using muscles that are rarely used. To add to that, the colder weather puts you at a greater risk for muscle pain. This
is because muscles constrict in the cold weather making them more prone to strains. All of these factors can contribute to an injury, which is why it is important to know proper techniques.
Do stretching exercises before to warm-up your muscles and throughout the course of your yard work.
Stand as straight as possible and bend at the knees, not the waist.
Look into using proper ergonomic tools and equipment best suited for your height. Your rake or shovel should be about chin height. Any equipment that is too short will require excessive forward bending. Having equipment that is too long will decrease your leverage making the various motions more difficult.
Avoid repetitive movements like twisting and turning.
Pace yourself and take breaks when necessary. This will allow your muscles to rest and minimize strain.
Replenish fluids in your body to avoid dehydration.
Listen to your body, it will tell you when to stop.
Tips for Raking:
Use a “scissor stance.” Right foot forward and left foot back for a few minutes, then switch. Changing sides frequently will avoid overusing one side of your body.
Keep the rake handle close to your body to promote an upright posture throughout the back and neck.
Keep a slight bend in your knees so you are able to shift weight back and forth.
Use the pull motion from the shoulders when leaves are under the rake.
Avoid overfilling bags to limit the load on your back and arms as you carry the bags.
Tips for Shovelling Snow:
Try a combination of pushing the snow and lifting to alter the loads on your body. Continue
pushing the snow straight ahead and avoid throwing it into the snow bank.
When lifting the snow, keep the load close to your body and bend the knees.
Lift small loads of snow and shovel more often as opposed to trying to tackle a large task all at once.
Avoid throwing the snow over the shoulder or to the side. This will limit trunk twisting and promote pivoting with your feet.
Identifying and Remedying Injuries/Strains
Rotator Cuff Injuries:
The repetitive lifting and throwing motions that come with raking and shovelling can target your rotator cuff muscles making strains some of the more common injuries to incur. If you are noticing a pain or burning near your shoulder socket, there is a strong chance you have injured your rotator cuff. If it is a strain it may go away in a day or two, however if it lasts longer than a few days you may want to seek professional help and avoid lifting anything else that may put an excessive strain on your arm.
Between looking up and down at your lawn or driveway, over your shoulders or at the sky in exasperation, you're likely going to put a strain on your neck. Neck pain is a very common injury after raking leaves or shovelling snow due to the different directions you are constantly turning your neck. It is recommended to slowly rotate your head around after your yard work is complete, this allows you to stretch your neck muscles. If the pain on your neck is great and lingers for a few days, a professional opinion may be beneficial.
The best advice that you can be given to avoid a back injury comes from your body. If you feel pain stop immediately, go inside and lay down. Applying ice or heat may alleviate some of the discomfort and stress on your lower back. When you are no longer in immediate pain, gentle stretches to help retain mobility may be beneficial and preventmuscle tightness and cramping. Again, if pain persists for longer than a few days, professional help may be required.
Ultimately, you want to be aware of your body’s position at all times so you know the appropriate steps to take in preventing injuries before they occur and take stress off previous injuries.
Canadian Living. (2015). How to prevent back pain and avoid injury when raking and shovelling. Retrieved from http://www.canadianliving.com/health/prevention/how_to_prevent_back_pain_and_avoid_injury_when_raking_and_shovelling.php
Therapeutic Associates. (2015). Safety tips for raking leaves and shovelling snow this season. Retrieved from http://www.therapeuticassociates.com/events/safety-tips-for-raking-leaves-and-shoveling-snow-this-season/