How To Wear A Back-Healthy Backpack

By Darcie Christensen, Nebraska Medicine – University Health Center physical therapist

Backpacks are the most convenient way to carry your books, homework and supplies for the day, but an overloaded or improperly worn backpack can be the sneaky culprit behind your low back pain.

A study led by Shelley Goodgold, physical therapist, found that 55 percent of those surveyed carried backpacks heavier than 15 percent of their bodyweight, the maximum safe weight recommended by most experts.

Carrying a load heavier than 15 percent of your body weight can cause increased strain on the neck, shoulders and back and lead to harmful postures such as arching the back, leaning forward or leaning to one side. These postures can causes muscles and soft tissue to work harder, leading to higher risk of injury.

Want to avoid the pain? Try some of these strategies for a back friendly bag: 

  • Pick the smallest bag you can
  • Aim to carry less than 10 to 15 percent of your body weight
  • Wear both straps over the shoulders
  • Wear your backpack so that it is centered on your back
  • Do not let your backpack hang below the base of your back
  • Keep straps tight so weight is close to your body (wearing weight close will actually make it feel lighter!)
  • If your backpack has a waist and/or chest belt, us them to evenly distribute the weight
  • Clean out your bag on weekly basis to remove unnecessary items

In short, the best practice for carrying a backpack is to be a minimalist. Only carry what you have to, choose the right bag when you need one and wear it the right way.

If your backpack is causing you pain that isn’t subsiding or if you struggle with other muscle, bone or joint pain, let the UHC physical therapy team help. Our experienced staff evaluates, treats and rehabilitates a variety of injuries and conditions. Call 402.472.5000 to schedule an appointment or visit to learn more. 


  1. Backpack use in children, 2002, Goodgold S, Corcoran M, Gillis J, Guerin J, Coyle JQ
  2. Effects of Backpack load on critical changes of trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine loading during walking, 2017, Li SSW, Chow DHK
  3. National Safety Council
  4. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

Five Ways To Prepare For Your First Appointment

If you’re a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, the chances are good that you will get sick or injure yourself at least once during your academic career. If that happens, Nebraska Medicine – University Health Center can help. We are your doctor away from home!

Before your first visit, here are a few important things you’ll need to know about how to access care at UHC:

  1. Making an appointment is easy. Call 402.472.5000 to schedule over the phone or stop by UHC if you’re in the area. You can even schedule some return visits with our One Chart | Patient phone app. If you are too sick to wait for an appointment, walk in services are available, but we recommend making an appointment to avoid a wait.
  2. Bring your NUID and an insurance card with you to your appointment. A copy or picture of mom or dad’s will do just fine. If you are able, download the Medical History Form from the UHC website, print it off, fill it out and bring it with you. Remember, if you are 18 or younger, we will need parental consent or this Power of Attorney form on file for you in order to be seen. Click here for FAQs about this form.
  3. Arrive 20 minutes before your appointment. That way you can complete the check-in process in a timely manner so that your appointment isn’t delayed. When you walk in, a staff member will be there to greet you and answer your questions. Don’t forget to sign in if you are using patient parking! Have your ID and insurance card out and ready for when your name is called to check-in.
  4. If you don’t have an appointment, and need to be seen immediately, let a staff member know. They’ll inform a triage nurse who will see you as soon as possible.
  5. Remember, we’re more than just a medical clinic! We have a full-service pharmacy, counseling and psychological services, a dental clinic, physical therapy and more!

To learn more about our services—and which ones are free for most students—visit our website.

The University Health Center is a great resource for students, so don’t be afraid to use it if you need it. Stay healthy, Huskers!

Self-Care Tips for Minor Sports Injuries

by Jenny Meints, licensed physical therapist assistant

Although being active is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, there can be a downside. While the benefits heavily outweigh the negatives, sore muscles, aches, pains and injuries can be a part of it.

No one wants to lose the endurance and strength they’ve worked hard for by taking time off, but the best way to get back in action is to take care of the injury sooner—and hopefully with a quicker recovery—rather than later with a longer recovery.

Indications something may be wrong

Pain: Listen to your body, modify or discontinue the activity. We’ve all heard the saying “No pain, no gain,” and at times this can be applicable. However it’s NOT always true.

Swelling: If the area is warm, red and/or swollen seek medical attention. While swelling with bruising may be a classic characteristic of a sprain or strain, it may also mean something more severe.

Bruising: If a bruise is present, it should start to turn from blueish-purple to more greenish-yellow after about one week, showing signs of reabsorption and healing. Monitor prolonged bruises for signs of poor healing.

Follow the PRICE principle

The PRICE principle is the gold standard for injury self-care and can help an athlete or individual return to their sport or activity more quickly.

Protection: Protect the injured person, body part and surrounding area.

Rest: Rest the involved limb, let the natural healing process occur without movement or pressure impeding it. Crutches or a sling may be useful.

Ice: Apply ice to decrease swelling and pain. Ice can be applied for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, every two hours while awake. A layer, such as a towel or pillow case, may be placed between the skin and ice to protect the skin. Ice can be held on by a compression wrap or bandage.

Compression: A compression wrap may be applied to prevent further swelling. Wrap the injured area starting away from the heart, be sure NOT to wrap tighter as you go, with the injured area ending up in the middle of the wrap. Cover half of the wrap each time in a figure 8 pattern.

Elevation: Elevate the injured limb above the heart if possible; pillows can be useful. This is to decrease blood flow to the area to help prevent further swelling.

Return to play

It is important to decrease the risk of re-injury, so modify the sport or activity to “test the waters.” Start out light and easy when returning to a workout routine or sport. This may mean decreasing the weight with lifting, decreasing the intensity with a sport or decreasing the duration or speed of a run. If pain or soreness are not present, increase the activity each time, continue to progress until you are back to full strength.

If self-care is not providing relief or improvement, consult with a doctor or physical therapist so that you can get on the road to recovery and back in action.

The University Health Center is here to help! Call 402.472.5000 to schedule an appointment with our medical clinic or physical therapy team.

Race Day Prep Tips to Help You Finish Strong

By Jenny Meints, physical therapist assistant

If you are signed up for a marathon or race this season, congratulations and good luck! Signing up was the easy part, training came next, and now it’s time to gear up for race day.

The days leading up to the race may be very fun and exciting, but remember to make final preparations. Here’s some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along my marathon journey.

Week of the race:

  • Gradually increase your carbs in the days leading up to the race.
  • Electrolyte chews or honey sticks work great during the race, so test them for flavor and texture during a long run before the actual race. Running belts are nice for holding these items. During the race, it’s a good idea to take these as a water station is approaching.
  • Take one last short run two days before the race.
  • Look over the race map; visualize starting the race, running the race and crossing the finish line. Practice nice slow breaths and keeping your shoulders and arms relaxed.
  • Enjoy the expo, the city you are visiting or spend time with family and friends if you are local.

Day of the race:

  • Breakfast is important. Bananas and nut butters on either bread or rolled in a whole wheat tortilla are a great option. Honey can be added as well.
  • Stay hydrated before and during the race, and listen to your body; urine is a great indicator of dehydration. Remember, there is such a thing as too much water!
  • Dress cooler than you think you’ll need to; add at least 10 degrees to the temperature. Your body heats up during the race, and the temperature tends to warm up as the race progresses.
  • Double knot your shoes and make sure the laces aren’t too tight either, you don’t want toes going numb during the race.

During the race:

  • Don’t stop during a race or try not to. It’s always harder to get moving again. Keep the adrenaline going and take a bathroom break before the race.
  • Frequently partake in the water stations for at least a sip. Once you’re further into the race, stop at a few “Gatorade” stations, too. Remember not to actually stop; you’ll get good at slowing down and keep moving.
  • Please thank the great volunteers who are handing out water, wet sponges, snacks or even the medal at the end. They are a huge instrumental part of the race.
  • When things get hard, if you don’t already have one, find a buddy or a pacer.
  • Try not to look at your watch or pacer bracelet too often. If you’ve put in the time, you know your pace, and you’ll tend to run quicker on race day.
  • Find a favorite inspirational quote to recite in your head for motivation. Read the spectators signs — they will give you a good laugh.
  • After the race, you will never regret giving it a great effort but you may regret not giving it your all. You got this!

After the race:

  • Keep moving after the race with walking, stretching and even some light jogging. Later in the day feel free to take a nap.
  • Eat something within 30 minutes after the race, even if you don’t feel like it. Chocolate milk, bagels or fruit are usually offered after the race.

All in all, have fun and enjoy the crowd, the day, the experience and the sites.  You can’t control the weather, race day jitters or simply having an off day. Keep your head up, stay relaxed and good luck!

The University Health Center Physical Therapy team offers the evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and conditions affecting the muscles, bones and joints. All UNL students, faculty and staff are eligible. For more information or to make an appointment, call 402.472.5000.