Using extra pillow for sleeping might help people with chronic back pain

Fitness Q & A

Health & Fitness

January 04, 2004|By Gailor Large | Gailor Large,Special to the Sun

I sleep on my side because it's most comfortable on my bad back. A friend suggested I sleep with a pillow between my knees. What would this do?

We posed this question to Jennifer Kline, who is a physical therapist at Physiotherapy Associates in Lutherville.

"The primary function of the pillow is to help maintain a neutral spine and pelvic alignment," says Kline. By keeping the top leg from pulling you into an unbalanced position, the pillow prevents stress on the back. If your top leg naturally stays where it is when you sleep, Kline says there's no need for the pillow.

The bottom line? If you are comfortable in bed, and aren't waking up in pain, your sleeping position is probably fine.

What exactly is trans fat?

Trans fat is artificial, or man-made, fat. Yum. Also referred to as "trans fatty acids," trans fat is added to processed foods to improve taste and shelf life. Like saturated fat, it raises LDL (or "bad") cholesterol, clogging arteries and increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Store-bought cookies and crackers, cakes, fried fast food, margarines and shortening often contain trans fat. To take the guesswork out of deciding which foods are trans fatty, look for the phrase "contains partially hydrogenated oils" on nutrition labels.

Hydrogenation, the process of adding hydrogen to vegetable oil, is how trans fat is made. Starting Jan. 1, 2006, all manufacturers will be required to list trans fat on nutrition labels.

My fingernails have become very weak and brittle. Could this be the result of a poor diet?

It's natural for fingernails to weaken with age, so this change may be an inevitable one. Still, other factors do contribute, and yes, diet is one of them.

Especially if you are a vegetarian or vegan, make sure you are taking in enough iron and zinc. Both minerals affect nail strength. Try to cut back on harsh nail products like polish removers. If these simple changes don't help, or if your nails are extremely brittle or splitting, see your doctor. A thyroid problem or other infection could be the cause.

Do you have a fitness question? Write to Fitness, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278. You can also fax questions to 410-783-2519 or e-mail

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