Athletes remain concerned about injuries on artificial turf
Although artificial grass has improved a lot since its introduction in the 1960s, studies suggest that it is still likely to cause more injuries to athletes than its more expensive counterpart: natural grass. (Photo by Patrick Seeger / Image Alliance via Getty Images)
PHOENIX – Jenaye Coleman, a former Division I lacrosse player at Marquette University, saw many teammates grueling knee injuries in practice and games. During her four-year season on artificial turf, a dark cloud of fear of stepping on the field emerged.
“As soon as we’ve probably seen, I don’t know, four girls are ripping out their ACL on our lawn,” Coleman said. It became some kind of stigma that everyone was a little nervous about. “Oh god, who will be next?” And for a while, it was all people could focus on. “
Although artificial grass has improved a lot since its introduction in the 1960s, studies suggest that it is still likely to cause more injuries to athletes than its more expensive counterpart: natural grass.
A 2019 study by Cleveland-based University Hospitals included data from 26 high school coaches during the 2017-2018 athletic season who reported 953 injuries: 368 were on natural grass, 585 were on artificial grass.
The study also found that injuries to the upper and lower extremities and trunk were more common on artificial turf than on natural turf. The Sports Most Prone To Injury? Football, men’s lacrosse, rugby, and girls ‘and boys’ football were groundbreaking.
College-level studies are also of concern. Division I athletes who competed on artificial turf suffered injuries to the posterior cruciate ligament – which is located at the back of the knee and connects the femur to the tibia – nearly three times as likely as those who competed on natural turf, the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the examined more than three million athletes from 2004 to 2014.
In 1966 AstroTurf was introduced into the sport. It was installed in the Houston Astrodome and changed the landscape of professional, college and high school competition. There are currently around 12,000 artificial turf fields in the US, reports the Synthetic Turf Council, with between 1,200 and 1,300 turf fields being installed each year.
Its popularity grew as a cheaper alternative to natural grass.
Rebecca Lambert, a Grand Canyon sports trainer and personal trainer, said she didn’t see much difference in injury rates when comparing the newer type of turf to natural turf. But, she said, when an athlete sets foot on grass, it’s like glue.
“There’s more friction and when you cut or turn you just stay a little more while natural grass has a little more movement in the ground,” said Lambert. “A lot of players complain that they feel sore or that their joints are sore and worn out after playing grass against grass.”
Why are so many institutions turning to the lawn? One big reason is that high schools and universities save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Several sports can be played on a grass field without the wear and tear of natural grass.
Equipment, materials, and labor costs can range from $ 23,250 to $ 127,000 for artificial turf and between $ 42,800 to $ 205,500 for natural turf, according to a report by Safe Healthy Playing Fields.
Many athletes have mixed feelings about turf and grass.
Ahwatukees Katie Smith, a Redshirt freshman who plays soccer at Marquette University, competed on natural grass at Desert Vista High School and on grass fields at other schools. She saw injuries in both fields. But as a central defender in football, she preferred natural grass.
“Because it just feels more natural and is easier to walk on grass and isn’t as hard on your feet as grass and I feel like it just flows better,” she said.
After moving to Division I, she practiced on grass and played on natural grass. She saw an advantage in this routine.
“When you play on turf, the games move much faster because of the surface. So transitioning from turf to grass helps you play a lot faster and you think of the ball a lot faster, and think of the ball a lot faster,” said Smith.
Audra Sumetz, a Desert Vista graduate and soon back on the defensive at Fort Lewis, notes that she’s seen a fair share of hamstring and quadriceps pulls on the turf.
“Because of the way the lawn is, how heavy it is and how fast everything moves,” said Sumetz. “I see more players getting injured on grass than on natural grass and it gets very hot. It burns your feet if you wear black studs.”
The effects of playing on turf are more than just mental, Coleman said.
When she was with Marquette, the strength and conditioning coach reached out to players who were more likely to get a knee injury and created programs for them to strengthen that area of the knee. But even that has influenced the players mentally.
While playing on the lawn, they “had to think twice about whether they were safe or not,” said Coleman.