April 25, 2014

Oh my raking back, dangers of leaf raking

Cleaning up leaves at Wisconsin's Capitol (PHOTO/file: Jackie Johnson)

Cleaning up leaves at Wisconsin’s Capitol (PHOTO/file: Jackie Johnson)

Warnings of potential injury from raking those fallen leaves.

Over the next five weeks nearly 1,100 people a day will turn up in emergency rooms nationwide with injuries from raking leaves, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The main reason, according to Kim Litwack — a family nurse practitioner at Advanced Pain Management in Madison — is that people doing yard work don’t think of leaf raking as a strenuous activity.

“Unfortunately what people forget is that it is a repetitive motion like snow shoveling and it can go on for several hours of work using muscles that people haven’t used in a long time.”

AUDIO: Litwack offers some tips for safe leaf raking. 1:43

Dr. Litwack, PhD, is not talking about heart attacks or other injuries commonly associated with unprepared snow shoveling; but instead, she says injuries are mostly muscle aches and strains in the arms and back. In addition to ER visits, there are presumably many injuries that go undocumented.

“Self-medicating, using over-the-counter analgesics isn’t a bad thing, using rest and heat or ice — whatever’s most comfortable — gentle stretching to work it out. That’s perfectly OK.”

Blisters are also common from leaf raking. Litwack says that’s not serious, but quite uncomfortable. Litwack offers some tips for safe leaf raking: warm up beforehand, choose the right size rake, wear gloves, use good posture, alternate hand positions, and then manage the leaves in a way that is easy to move and dispose of them, and involve the entire family.

If you really don’t want to rake the leaves, Litwack suggests you hire someone to do it, or get out the lawn mower and mulch the leaves.

Litwack is currently an Associate Professor of the Family Nurse Practitioner program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.