Natural Grass vs Artificial Turf in Sports
Labor Day weekend usually marks the end of summer, the beginning of a new school year, and the start offall sports, including football and soccer. With the competitive nature of sports also comes controversy around the athletes and everything that surrounds them, even the surfaces they play on.
Artificial turf was originally installed as the solution for the damage natural grass endures as a result of overuse and weather. It became popular for sports field complexes in the 1960s after AstroTurf was inlayed in the Houston Astrodome. In 1995, though, artificial turf was temporarily banned in the EPL due to its poor quality, the effects it had on soccer ball motion, as well as the potential risk of injuries associated with turf (3,7). Today, fields use a third-generation synthetic turf with an infill of sand and rubber, yet, due to its costs, health-related concerns, potential increased risk of athletic injuries, and player preference, there still remains controversy around the use of artificial surfaces.
Originally, people thought that artificial turf would be cheaper because it would require less maintenance; however, that does not appear to be the case. Artificial turf is more expensive to install, around $850,000-$1M per field, compared to $50,000-$150,000 for native soil fields, and it must be replaced every 8-10 years for $500,00+. Supplies, equipment, and maintenance may be more expensive for natural grass fields; however, with the cost of synthetic turf installation and replacement, the overall cost of natural grass actually becomes more affordable (4,7).
Click here to view the Turfgrass Resource Center PDF, which further details the individual costs related to installation and upkeep of natural grass and artificial turf.
Artificial turf not only increases the surface temperature, making it dangerous to play on at certain temperatures, it also puts players at increased risk for bacterial infections, as well as systemic effects and toxicity from the rubber (4).
There is debate over whether artificial turf has led to an increase rate of injuries among athletes. Because there is more friction between cleats and turf, this theoretically could lead to a greater potential for athletic injuries, including turf toe, knee injuries, foot lock, turf burn, and more powerful collisions & concussions (2,5,6).
Unfortunately, with limited research performed on small sample sizes, and so many variables to account for (age and type of field surface, age of athletes, duration of play/use on field, type of sports, injuries examined, etc), it makes it difficult to formulate any significant conclusions at this point.
This post is not meant to go into the specific details of all potential injuries, but to simply acknowledge that certain injuries may be correlated to playing on artificial turf.
In 2010, 1619 NFL players filled out a survey regarding their preference and perception of playing surfaces. A summary of their responses is below.
As you can see from the table above, the majority of NFL players would rather play on natural grass, and they actually believed that artificial turf is more likely to contribute to injury, soreness, and fatigue, as well as negatively affect them after their football career.
Artificial grass has the advantage of resisting the wear-and-tear that natural grass undergoes with overuse; however, it is more expensive to install, has potentially harmful effects on players, may increase the risk of certain athletic injuries, and players prefer playing on natural grass. Therefore, in my opinion, there is a clear cut winner to playing surfaces and that is natural grass.
DISCLAIMER: The above information is meant for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult the doctor, or your own healthcare professional, should you have questions or concerns related to your health.
1. 2010 NFL Players Playing Surfaces Opinion Survey. (2010). NFL Players Association, PDF.
2. Ford, K. R., Manson, N. A., Evans, B. J., Myer, G. D., Gwin, R. C., Heidt Jr, R. S., & Hewett, T. E. (2006). Comparison of in-shoe foot loading patterns on natural grass and synthetic turf. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 9(6), 433-440.
3. Keegan, M. (2014). Artificial pitches set to return to Football League. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/29376418 (Accessed on 8/30/18).
4. Natural Grass and Artificial Turf: Separating Myths and Facts. The Turfgrass Resource Center, PDF.
5. Smeets, K., Jacobs, P., Hertogs, R., Luyckx, J. P., Innocenti, B., Corten, K., ... & Bellemans, J. (2012). Torsional injuries of the lower limb: an analysis of the frictional torque between different types of football turf and the shoe outsole. Br J Sports Med, 46(15), 1078-1083.
6. Why Choose Natural Turf? A discussion on natural versus artificial turf for sport and leisure applications. (2006). Presented by European Seed Association, PDF.
7. Wolfson, B. (2015). Turf vs Grass. World Cup 2015 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University. Retrieved from https://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/tournament-guides/world-cup-2015-guide/all-about-that-turf/turf-vs-grass/. (Accessed on 8/29/2018).