The time of year is here where our beautiful fall colors start being shed from the trees. While we enjoy the changing color of the leaves, the aftermath of the leaves falling always keeps us busy around this time. Have you ever went out to rake, felt so satisfied with the greenness of the grass that you can once again see and then turn around and with a gust of wind your work feels like its been undone completely. Sigh, back out and at it in a day or two. For us, there is that ONE tree that seems to hold onto 1/3 of the leaves until AFTER the first snow fall. Even if it isn’t terribly snowy – what a mess! In fact, I know that last year we had leaves that stayed on nearly through the new year. Oh, and did I mention, this tree (that we love and appreciate shade from in the summer) isn’t even ours, but the leaves all fall in our yard.
Ok, so now that I’m done blog-venting, let’s talk about why I’m writing on this and posting to a foot clinic website. Raking is another one of those activities that we don’t do on a regular basis and can’t. There isn’t any similar activity that poses the same stresses on our body. So, when those leaves start falling, it may seem like you JUST did this last year, but your body has not done this for a long time.
Raking leaves is a cardiovascular workout. Trust me, all that upper body movement and twisting will get your heart rate up and contribute to your ‘active hours’ and this is one reason I don’t complain much even when that gust of wind comes through. So, since we at Prairie Path Foot & Ankle Clinic care about the person attached to the feet, it is only fitting to discuss that raking leaves is something you may want to ask for help with. If you are a regularly active individual. If you run, go for long walks, exercise on a regular basis, the change in activity may not be a concern for your heart health. If you do regular upkeep in your house, but have underlying heart conditions or high blood pressure, as your primary care doctor if it is OK to rake leaves. While the weight of the leaves is not USUALLY as much as when shoveling, this is taxing on your upper body and heart.
While we are at it, if you have had a shoulder or arm injury or even a back issue that hasn’t been addressed, see someone before you start raking leaves. It may sound silly, but it isn’t impossible to pull your back or hurt your shoulder when you are out cleaning up that yard.
Now, in terms of your FEET. Depending on the size of your yard, how old it is, how lumpy it is, you may have variable risk for foot injury or issues. If you have a relatively flat lawn, your likelihood of an actual injury with raking leaves is pretty low. Your risk of developing overuse is something to consider though. Raking leaves involves a lot of walking, twisting, pivoting, bending over and side-to-side motion. If you slide on a pair of crocs and head out, your aren’t doing your feet any favors. Wearing supportive shoes or boots help to support your ankles and feet and reduce fatigue and straining. If you are reading this because your feet already hurt after raking leaves, you may be experiencing any number of conditions. Plantar fasciitis results from overuse of the feet. This is typically when your activity, steps or otherwise, exceed your average over the course of weeks prior. Especially in cases where your feet aren’t well supported, inflammation can result and make it hard to walk. Typically with plantar fasciitis, it won’t be while you are raking, but instead when you try to get out of bed the next morning.
If you are not used to walking with a lot of side to side motion (most of us do walk forward primarily), then your peroneal tendon can become inflamed and painful. One of these particular tendons is on the outside of the ankle and attaches about midway between the heel and baby toe. The other extends across the bottom of the arch. These tendons are typically used to stabilize the foot and help to reduce damage if you roll your ankle, depending on the severity of the injury of course. All that side to side motion can cause inflammation and pain to these tendons. If you don’t have any more raking to do, a little rest and wearing sturdy gym shoes consistently for a few days may help this to turn around quickly. If not, an evaluation is helpful.
If you are someone with a lumpy lawn or even a few areas where you have little rabbit holes, twisting your ankle and falling down are a couple of possible injuries you may experience. Pay close attention to the terrain when you are out getting those leaves off of your lawn. Try to be very mindful of any holes, divots or lumps and avoid them. Especially if you are raking near a street, also be sure to not put your back to that street.
If you do step off of a curb or roll your ankle in your lawn, get some ice and get your foot up. If you experience a lot of swelling, any bruising or if you have any difficulties walking afterwards, call for an evaluation. A sprain is never just a sprain to your podiatrist, and the only way to know if you have a fracture or a sprain is to start with getting an x-ray. In some cases, an ankle brace may be recommended. If a fracture is present, more support would be recommended and this is often with a CAM boot which can be removed for showering. Of course in some cases, if a fracture occurs and is one which requires surgery, the sooner the surgery is performed, the sooner your down time can be over with.
If you are itching to get out and get that yard cleaned up. Or if you just enjoy the time outside to peacefully work toward the goal of seeing that beautiful green lawn, make sure to give your feet the best chance to help you. Throw on a sturdy (and not excessively worn) gym shoe or work boot. If it’s wet out there, be mindful for what boot you decide on and if you need to wear a rain boot, extra support with an insert is always better than doing all that raking in a flat or unsupportive welly.