Experts in the field of athletic training have waited for conclusive data confirming or falsifying claims that FieldTurf, the synthetic grassy surface that covers the College’s soccer complex, is easier on the battered bodies of athletes.
To those who have been waiting, the answers have arrived.
Dr. Michael Meyers, head of the Health and Exercise Science department at West Texas A&M University, recently finished a five-year study regarding the health benefits of competition on FieldTurf due to unanswered questions regarding its safety and alleged health concerns.
Meyers’ study, “Incidence, Causes and Severity of High School Football Injuries on FieldTurf Versus Natural Grass,” recorded and compared injury reports of eight high school football programs during the 1998-2002 seasons, noting player positions, injury types and environmental factors for sports played on FieldTurf and those played on natural grass.
Since he has finished the FieldTurf study, Meyers’ phone has not stopped ringing.
“I get calls about once every week of people who want the results,” Meyers said. “We’ve heard a lot of interest in this data.”
The interest has been for good reason, as the study contains conclusive evidence that competing on FieldTurf is statistically healthier than natural grass, which was considered the best athletic surface.
Much different from the “carpeted concrete” Astroturf, FieldTurf implements grass fibers bounded and stabilized by “synthetic earth.” FieldTurf’s patented mixture of smooth, rounded silica sand, rubber granules and NIKE GRIND (composed of re-ground athletic shoe material) keeps athletes safer, Meyers said.
FieldTurf showed to host significantly fewer career-threatening injuries and kept participants in the study on the sidelines less often.
The sports physiology professor’s data, translated into injury incidence rates-ratio (IRR) during a 10-game season, documented significantly fewer traumatic injuries to the brain. This indicates an IRR of 0.7 concussions on the synthetic surface versus natural grass’ 1.8.
Data also showed that athletes who competed on FieldTurf experienced a 0.4 IRR of anterior cruciate ligament damage in the knee compared with the 1.0 IRR of grass. Players also only experienced tears of the knee ligament at a rate of 0.5 times in a season on the turf, as opposed to twice that amount on grass.
“FieldTurf reduces trauma to (a) player’s head, neck and knees since the surface is ultimately more cushioned than grass,” Meyers said.
Grass fields can become hard after countless footsteps compact the dirt, resulting in more pressure on joints and higher impacts upon collision with the ground.
Though fewer major injuries occurred during play on FieldTurf, players experienced 15.2 IRRs with minor injures compared with 13.9 on grass. 6.4 of those injuries experienced on FieldTurf lasted for less than a game, while only 4.1 such injuries occured on natural grass during a 10-game season.
The data was inconclusive with regard to the effect of player position on IRRs.
Meyers’ study did not include any comparison regarding Astroturf, yet he seemed surprised to hear that the College’s football, soccer, field hockey and lacrosse programs competed on the outdated surface that has been denounced for its susceptibility to major head, neck, knee, ankle and other various nagging injuries such as muscle tears and shin splints.
Astroturf has also been frowned upon for its reputation as a breeding ground to species of bacteria, including staphylococcus, the most common culprit of the appearance of staph infections.
The College’s student-athlete community is not fond of it either. Freshman wide receiver and sprinter Mark Gardner weighed in on the outdated rugged cement.
“I have to wear long sleeves in 100 degree weather and get all beat up every time I hit the ground,” Gardner said. “You tell me whether or not I would like it.”
“I’m shocked to hear that anybody still plays on that stuff,” Meyers said.
Meyers also considered Astroturf as “nothing more than over-glorified carpet on top of concrete” and joked, “I’m not even sure if the company that manufactures (it) is still in business.”
Meyers concluded from the study that “although similarities existed between FieldTurf and natural grass over a five-year period of competitive play, both surfaces also exhibited unique injury patterns that warrant further investigation.”