Autumn in New Jersey is a magnificent time of year. The changing colors provide some incredible scenery in the Garden State, but the season also calls for some serious yard-work for many homeowners. Often, the laborious raking can leave many feeling sore and uncomfortable.

Here are some of the BEST tips I have to offer to help keep you pain-free while you’re keeping your yard in pristine shape:

1. WARM UP YOUR MUSCLES – Before you begin raking leaves, it’s best to “actively” warm-up your muscles. Take a brisk walk for about 5-10 minutes or do some jumping jacks to prepare your body.

2. CHECK YOUR RAKING POSTURE – While raking, stand erect with your head held up. Center your weight and slightly bend your knees. Use the “scissors” stance when raking – keep one foot forward for a few minutes, then switch and put the back foot forward.

3. BEND AT THE KNEES – When bending down to pick up leaves, etc., keep your back straight and bend at the knees, not the waist!!! The power for your lift should come from your buttocks and legs.

4. CHOOSE THE RIGHT RAKE – Try to use an “ergonomically-friendly” rake that helps take the strain from your muscles and joints. A rake should be proportionate with your body size; if it is too long or too short, it can alter your posture and strain your muscles.

5. TAKE A BREAK – Taking your time makes your chances of injuring yourself less likely – when you rush, you tend to get sloppy with your technique. By doing this, you’re setting yourself up for injury. Switch hands often to prevent or alleviate muscle exhaustion. Repetitive motion exhausts your muscles. It’s also important to break frequently for water. By staying hydrated, you’re helping your muscles work as efficiently as possible.

6. USE A TARP – Leaves are lightweight and can easily be moved around when they’re on a tarp. Rake the leaves onto the tarp and pull one end of the tarp to move the leaves to your desired location. Doing this can save your back from the effects of constantly bending over to pick up piles of leaves to put into a garbage bag or wheelbarrow.

7. RAKE WITH THE WIND – If the wind is blowing, why not let Mother Nature give you a hand?

8. DRESS YOUR FEET PROPERLY – Standing on your feet and raking for a long period of time can put a lot of strain on your feet and legs. A good, supportive shoe that provides arch support and has skid-resistant soles can decrease some of the strain and minimize the risk of you slipping on wet leaves and falling.

9. CONSIDER A WEIGHTED BELT – Wearing a weighted belt may help prevent injury to the low back. It can remind you of proper posture and give you a sense of position.

10. DON’T PUSH YOURSELF – Don’t let your pride get in the way when it comes to yard work. If raking is causing you pain, consider a leaf blower. There are some lightweight gas and electric leaf blowers on the market that are handheld or can be worn like a backpack. Blowing all the leaves into one large pile or onto a tarp can save time and energy. If the leaf blower isn’t helping, enlist the help of a neighbor or hire a landscaper.

11. CALL YOUR PHYSICAL THERAPIST – If you’ve followed all of these suggestions and you’re still in pain after approximately 3-5 days, contact your physical therapist. A good therapist can help speed up the recovery process for you.

Man raking leaves as they fall, shallow depth of field.

Apex Orthopedic Rehabilitation in Paramus, NJ provides orthopedic, spine and sports physical therapy services for the greater Ridgewood, Paramus, and Bergen County region. This blog is intended for informational purposes only and should not be used for diagnostic or prescriptive purposes. The views expressed here are the author’s views and should be taken as suggestions. Always consult your doctor or healthcare practitioner before engaging in a physical therapy or rehabilitative program.