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More on the artificial turf versus natural grass debate

More on the artificial turf versus natural grass debate

By ProjectManhattan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The earliest injury surveillance studies comparing artificial turf vs. natural grass reported a higher rate of injury on artificial turf. Technological advances in artificial turf design and materials have resulted in products whose characteristics are more similar to natural grass that the earliest generations of artificial turf. A number of recent publications have found little difference in injury rates for soccer between the two surfaces, but those studies have been focused mostly on males and typically on professional male players.

So, while artificial turf may be equal to or safer than natural grass, there are few studies on female soccer players and even fewer long-term studies that compare injuries on the two surfaces that were conducted on collegiate women. Meyers recorded injuries in female soccer players competing at 13 universities over 5 competitive seasons to determine frequency, grade, anatomic location, mechanism, category, time of injury, time loss, severity, player position, primary type of injury, field location at the time of injury, head and lower extremity trauma, cleat design, turf age, and the local environmental at the time of injury.

Over the 5-year project, 797 collegiate games were evaluated for match injuries that occurred during play on FieldTurf or natural grass; 355 (44.5%) team games were played on FieldTurf versus 442 (55.5%) team games were played on natural grass. A total of 693 injuries were recorded, with 272 (39.2%) of the injuries having occurred on FieldTurf and 421 (60.8%) on natural grass. Multivariate analysis of injury rate per 10 team games indicated a significant effect due to the playing surface effect. When comparing FieldTurf vs. natural grass, there was a significantly lower total injury incidence rate (IIR) of 7.7 (95% CI: 7.2-8.1) versus 9.5 (95% CI: 9.3-9.7; P = .0001) and a lower rate of substantial injuries, 0.7 (95% CI: 0.5-1.0) versus 1.5 (95% CI: 1.2-1.9; P = .001) respectively.

Further analyses indicated significantly less time lost from injuries on FieldTurf as well as less trauma on FieldTurf when comparing player ‘s position, grade of injury, various field conditions and temperatures, cleat design, and turf age. Meyers concluded that when playing surfaces are being considered with respect to injury, that FieldTurf was a practical alternative for women’s soccer, but cautioned that these results are very specific and limited to collegiate competition played on this specific artificial surface.

Meyers MC.
Incidence, Mechanisms, and Severity of Match-Related Collegiate Women’s Soccer Injuries on FieldTurf and Natural Grass Surfaces A 5-Year Prospective Study.
Am J Sports Med 2013;41: 2409-2420. []

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Don Kirkendall
Don is a lifelong player and licensed coach with a PhD in exercise science who continued his love of The Beautiful Game’ by studying soccer on multiple levels. With over 80 published peer-reviewed publications, many focused on soccer, Don brings a broad perspective on training, nutrition, and specific topics in football medicine. He sits on the US Soccer Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

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