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 A Comparative Study of Players’ Chances of Injury: Artificial Turf vs. Natural Turf

It has long been the opinion of soccer players and coaches that playing or training on artificial turf is more likely to result in player injuries. However, the latest technological developments have led to the use of so-called “third-generation artificial turf” in more public and professional fields, but the debate continues as to whether artificial turf increases the chance of injury.

Artificial Grass VS Natural Grass

So, does training on artificial turf increases the chances of injury? Over the past few years, there have been many studies conducted in various sports. Recently, I have also used meta-analysis to examine whether this assertion holds true in the field of soccer. The final results show that playing or training on artificial turf does not increase the chance of acute injury, but that differences in playing style or players’ perceptions of artificial turf may lead to an increased risk of injury.

Let’s start with what is called a meta-analysis: a quantitative synthesis of the results of multiple existing studies using statistical methods to reach the most representative conclusions. One advantage of this method is that all the raw data can be aggregated and integrated into one study. In this study, we used meta-analysis to include empirical studies conducted by different researchers in different locations and using different athletes, and statistically synthesized the results of these studies to obtain a macro picture of the issue.

meta analysis

First, a literature review was conducted on a group of studies conducted by different researchers on the chance of injury on artificial and natural turf, and eight studies were extracted from these studies for the final synthesis. These eight studies were consistent in three areas.

1. monitored players playing and training on both turfs (artificial and natural) situations.
2. counted the number of player injuries and the total number of hours played and trained on the respective turf.
3. the same criteria for injury identification (missing at least one day of play or training) were used.

All raw data (including the number of injuries and time spent on the field in training/playing) and player characteristics were then extracted for a comprehensive analysis.

In total, these eight studies involved approximately 1.5 million hours of practice/game time and nearly 10,000 injury episodes. Just under two-thirds of the time was spent training/playing on natural turf, and the total number of injuries during this period accounted for approximately 75% of the total. After combining both scenarios, including games and training, the analysis showed that injuries were 10-14% less likely to occur on artificial turf than natural turf.
Of course, this result includes the full range of conditions for men and women, as well as adults and juniors, and specifically for the type of injury, the results show that knee, ankle and foot injuries are lower on artificial turf, while the probability of muscle strains is similar on both surfaces.

In summary, our findings suggest that the conclusion that injuries are actually more likely on artificial turf is not valid. In fact, artificial turf may also reduce the chances of specific types of injuries in certain situations.

So, how exactly should this result be interpreted?

There is no question that artificial turf has some key properties that help reduce stress on the joints, especially when compared to poorer quality natural turf that is dry, hard and often grooved and partially bald. However, this point was not addressed in the studies we covered, as all eight studies were compared with high-quality natural turf.

Another key point is that training and play on artificial turf will be different, mainly in terms of faster ball speeds and more variable ball movement trajectories. As a result, players tend to take less aggressive defensive actions, such as sliding less often. Regardless of the type of turf, this will certainly reduce the chance of injury to players.

Finally, players themselves have an inherent bias towards playing on artificial turf, often feeling more fatigued and demanding of their skill level when playing on human grass. This may be due to the faster pace of the modern game, or the fact that they often play on loose natural turf. However, we are not sure if they are correct in this perception, but in reality, the feeling of fatigue and the pace of the game has something to do with the strategy the players adapt during the game.

Therefore, there are several main reasons for the difference in the chance of injury on the two types of turf, all of which may be directly or indirectly related to the type of turf.

artificial-grass-for-football

In addition, are there any other factors that we have not considered?

  • First, it could be the heat. None of the reports mentions injuries affected by heat, but of course, there is little debate that human grass can be affected by heat, especially in the summer when turf temperatures can easily reach 38°C or higher.
  • Secondly, all studies did not consider muscle bruises as a type of injury. Because the injury criteria used here is that players must miss at least one day of play or training, it is rare for players to bruise their skin while shovelling or being shovelled that would prevent them from continuing for an extended period of time. Given the inherent roughness of human grass, it could be assumed that there would be more abrasions on human grass, however, the current studies do not support this assertion.
  • Again, there are aspects of these studies that have not been considered, such as the need to learn more about women and adolescents. Considering that more and more community courts with synthetic grass are now being used by youth, more information is needed to determine if synthetic grass increases the chances of injury in this population. There is also some additional information on chronic injuries that needs to be added, but of course, these are not considered because it is difficult to directly correlate chronic injuries with turf conditions.

In summary, at this stage, we have concluded that playing or training on artificial turf does not increase the chances of injury to players. In fact, there are some types of injuries that are correspondingly less likely to occur. However, we cannot conclude that artificial turf is necessarily safer than natural turf.

Obviously, there are many more factors that need to be analyzed. In particular, it is important to understand the root cause of the negative perceptions of artificial turf and whether it increases the physical strain on players. Regardless, based on the results of the current study, players, coaches and parents should feel comfortable playing on artificial turf.

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