Did Someone Say "Raise The Roof"?!? No, "Rake The Roof". Don’t let this be you……. Winter in New England…..some love it, some not so much…..but for all of us it often means “slip in the parking lot/driveway season” and it can also mean the start of not just snow shoveling but roof raking as well. Anyone that has ever done some roof raking knows what a strenuous and difficult chore it can be. You are handling a telescoping 17-21 foot aluminum pole with a metal or plastic blade at the end to physically drag down your roof and scrape off piles of snow. Aside from it being an unwieldy device to start with, you are also walking around your house in the snow, navigating bushes and landscaping, head tipped back looking up at the roof and where the blade at the end of the long pole is headed. Not to mention keeping your arms up overhead for most of the work and pulling down on the snow then readjusting and sending the rake back up again time after time. It is a extremely repetitive motion which can lead to muscle strain, back pain, or a variety of other injuries. Shoulder impingement is also a common diagnosis for repetitive overhead shoulder motion or motion out to the sides. Additionally, we are usually doing this under somewhat of a time crunch- not many of us choose to rake off the roof for fun- we do it when there’s a lot of snow up there and either rain or another storm is predicted soon, and we need to get some of that snow off asap so our roof doesn’t get damaged or ice dams or a whole host of structural problems. So I think we can agree that roof raking has the potential to at the least be physically demanding, and at most, even be hazardous. What are some steps that we can take to help prevent or minimize any potential injuries? Well, the first is quite obvious, but sometimes overlooked. Before there is any snow on the roof, take a moment to do a quick inspection- look for any loose shingles, or loose rain gutters or any roof irregularities etc. These could be potential areas for the blade of the rake to get caught and either cause further damage or cause injury to you as you pull on the rake to free it. Once there is snow/ice on the roof, be very careful of where that will be landing as it is scraped off. One cubic foot of ice weighs 62 lbs. It sounds crazy, but a large icicle or piece of ice falling from the roof onto you could seriously injure you! Before tackling the task, it’s a good idea to warm up to increase blood flow to your muscles and joints to prepare them for the work you are about to do. Make sure to wear good footwear that will not slip. Take frequent breaks during the work- put your arms down at your sides, look down towards the ground to help relieve your neck and upper back. Good body mechanics is also key and should also be used as much as possible. Don’t twist your trunk/back at the same time as you are pushing or pulling. Keep your knees slightly bent and use your legs to move back and forth rather than relying only on your arms and trunk. Keep your core engaged to help protect your back. Ask your therapist if you are unfamiliar with how to do this. Finally just some quick last words of caution….please, please do not use a roof rake or shovel while on a ladder. Some of the worst injuries occur from people falling from ladders- devastating head injuries, spinal injuries, neck injuries, fractures. If you absolutely MUST use a ladder, follow the 4:1 rule- for each 4 ft. distance between the ground and upper point of contact (to wall or roof) move the base of the ladder out 1 foot. Also, because I am a hand therapist, I can not stress enough DO NOT put your hand in the snow blower if it gets clogged with snow. Just don’t do it! Don’t do it even if everything is completely turned off. Don’t do it with a stick which might get pulled into the turning gears and pull your hand in with it. These accidents happen in a split second and they break bones and cut tendons and even cut fingers totally off. I get patients EVERY winter from this kind of injury……please just don’t do it! Hopefully we will all have a safe and enjoyable winter season!