Artificial Turf : Danger Afoot?

By Kyle Rich

Football players face the possibility of concussions and broken bones every time they step on the field. But new research suggests it isn’t the defense football players should be concerned with but the artificial turf they often play on.

A study conducted by the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine and published in the October issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine suggests a higher injury rate among NFL players who play on synthetic turf rather than natural grass.

Synthetic turf is utilized by many NFL teams, such as the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions, according to, a company that manufactures and sells the turf analyzed in the study.

According to Dr. James P. Bradley, an orthopedic surgeon and researcher on the study, he and the team of doctors were prompted to do the study after doctors from the NFL approached them expressing concerns of increased injury rate on the artificial turf. According to Bradley, no other extensive study of its kind exists.

“The reason our study started is the doctors came to us and said there is increased ankle sprains and knee sprains on this [artificial] surface,” he said.

The researchers compiled data between 2000 and 2009 and found that 1,356 team games were played on artificial turf. The report showed the rate of knee sprains was 21 percent higher on FieldTurf than on natural grass, and the rate of ACL injuries was 67 percent higher.

Bradley said specific reasons FieldTurf has led to this rise in injuries are still unknown.

“All we’re saying is the surface does make a difference,” Bradley said. “We just don’t know the reasons. ”

Bradley said more research is being planned to assess possible variables that have led to the rise of injuries related to synthetic turf.

“We aren’t going to conduct [new research] until we get standardized shoe wear for the FieldTurf,” Bradley said, noting that manufactures have already started making footwear specific to artificial turf.

Despite its alleged dangers, Bradley said he is sure the playing surface isn’t going anywhere.

“FieldTurf and artificial surfaces are needed,” Bradley said. “There’s no way you aren’t going to have those. So the question is, how do you make [players] perform as [safely] on grass as possible?”

Synthetic turf was originally designed to lower overall field maintenance costs, increase playing time and allow play in all types of weather, according to Michael Meyers, assistant dean at the College of

Western Idaho.

Meyers has conducted two separate studies, one that was partially funded by FieldTurf, that he said debunk the connection between high injury rates and FieldTurf use at the high school and collegiate levels. He contended that the Orthopedic study is flawed because of how it was conducted.

“The most glaring flaw is the overall design of the study,” Meyers said. “This goes against basic research principles.”

He argued that the players should have been exposed to both surfaces during the same season.

Meyers noted disproportionate numbers of games played on grass compared to those on FieldTurf in the first three years the Orthopedic study was conducted, which may have skewed the results.

He said the study analyzed only 20–40 games played on FieldTurf in 2000 to 2002, while 420–438 were analyzed on grass fields those same years.

But Bradley said there weren’t many games on FieldTurf to analyze in the first three years the study was conducted.

“If you don’t have the field to do the games on, this is the best information you can get,” Bradley said. “We didn’t [leave the information out] on purpose because there was a lack of FieldTurf fields to analyze.”

Meyers argued the research did not trace injuries that could have occurred during practice. He said he believes the data is insignificant because injuries sustained on natural grass could be exacerbated during a game played on artificial turf, and vice versa.

“Injuries don’t occur in a vacuum,” Meyers said. “Reoccurring injuries happen all the time.”