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Astroturf vs. Grass – Avoiding Sports Injuries

Posted 7/19/2016 by UHBlog

As schools and other organizations switch their sports fields from natural grass to artificial turf your injury risks increase. Talk to us about how to manage those risks.

Astroturf vs. Grass: Avoiding Sports Injuries

Artificial turf surfaces are generally easier to maintain than grass fields, and artificial surfaces can extend the time that a field can be used. The disadvantage of artificial turf, says sports medicine specialist James Voos, MD, is that it presents a higher risk for serious knee and ankle injuries.

“The difference in the numbers isn’t astronomical, but the National Football League and other sports have done research that definitely confirms that more injuries occur on artificial turf,” Dr. Voos says. “That’s mainly because it is a high friction surface that allows athletes to perform very fast. Ankle sprains and ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries are the ones we are most concerned about.”

In climates like Northeast Ohio’s, where the ground is wet or slushy during a large part of the year, artificial turf fields are becoming increasingly attractive to schools and other organizations. Those surfaces can withstand extreme weather conditions with less maintenance, allowing them to be used more often and for more purposes than a single sport like football, soccer or lacrosse.

“Because of that convenience, we’re going to be seeing more artificial turf fields,” Dr. Voos says.

The best thing athletes and their parents can do to reduce the risk of injuries on artificial fields, he says, is to wear the right shoes.

“Some shoes, like those with long spikes, are great for grass, but terrible for turf because they can stick and create a serious injury,” Dr. Voos says. “Because student athletes are probably going to play on both types of field during the season, they’ll need to have the right shoes for both grass and artificial turf fields. That means a bigger investment.”

Regardless of the field type, he advises proper warm-ups before game time.

“Stretching and a dynamic warm-up is always important for injury prevention,” he says. “But also be sure to move around the field to get a feel for the surface and develop a comfort level with it.”

Proper field management is also important for reducing the risk of turf injuries.

“Although artificial turf is easier to maintain than grass, it is not a set-it-and-forget-it product,” he says. “Many organizations have the philosophy that you just install the turf and they’re done. Maintenance still needs to be done to ensure that the surface keeps its appropriate consistency and quality.”

That maintenance should include proper cleaning to remove bacteria that can develop on synthetic fields.

According to Dr. Voos, grass fields have their own injury risks. Wet or muddy spots can cause slips, especially when chunks of grass and dirt give way.

Concussions, he says, are a risk on either type of surface.

“You can play on a grass field that is dry and hard, and it’s like playing on concrete,” he says. “Concussion is a very hot topic at the professional level, and it comes down to proper field maintenance, regardless of the type of field you have. Hopefully, some practical guidelines from the professional leagues will translate down to youth sports so that the field surfaces are always maintained to the best safety standards possible.”

Schools and other organizations that are considering artificial turf should thoroughly research the vendors from whom they are considering buying the product.

“Several companies are installing turf, and the competition has helped to raise the quality level,” Dr. Voos says.

James Voos, MD is an orthopedic surgeon, Director, UH Sports Medicine and Head team Physician for the Cleveland Browns. You can request an appointment with Dr. Voos or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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