With summer at an end, the leaves are turning brown and falling, cluttering up your yard and garden - so it's only natural you'll want to get the rake out. However, as with all physical tasks about the house and garden, it is very important you take the necessary precautions against accident and injury.
Fall yard work, leaf raking and other outdoor maintenance activities carry numerous risks such as: upper and lower back strain, neck strain and shoulder pain. Just like with sports, if your body isn't prepared for physical activity this can increase your chances of injury. You can avoid straining yourself by taking simple precautions, such as: doing warm ups, stretches and maintaining good posture.
Athletes are able to reduce the risk of strain and injury by doing warm ups. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) recommends 10-15 minutes of stretching exercises: from trunk rotations, side-bends and knee-to-chest pulls. When these are also combined with a short walk, which helps to stimulate circulation, and with additional stretches at the end, this prepares the body for manual labor associated with raking and yard work.
While raking your garden or yard, good posture can also prevent back problems - make sure you keep your back straight and your head up. Use common sense while working: lift with your legs and bend with your knees, taking care you don't strain your back while picking up bundles of leaves and grass. If you're likely to carry heavy items, hold them close to your body to help prevent back strain. In order to take the pressure off your back, rake using the "scissors" stance: put your right foot forward and the left one back, then reverse after a few minutes. When using a lawn mower, try to use your body weight to move it as opposed to your arms and back.
It is vitally important to take breaks. Pace yourself, and whenever your body feels tired take a respite - this is particularly important if the weather is hot, so drink lots of water and wear sun-protection such as a hat, sun block and protective glasses. Investing in extra protective gear, such as gloves to prevent blisters, a mask if you're prone to allergies and protective eyewear, can make life easier while taking on outdoor chores. Ergonomic tools with extra padding, larger or curved handles are less strenuous to use over a long-time period. Changing tasks regularly helps to prevent repetitive strain injury of certain muscle groups - change positions, or simply move onto another task for a short period of time before returning to the previous one. Make plans for your gardening tasks; make sure they're realistic and unlikely to cause strain or exhaust you too much.
If you're unaccustomed to physical labor, chances are you will feel sore and stiff the next day - in this case, use ice to soothe the discomfort, but if there is no improvement in your aches and pains, then see a chiropractor.