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Turf Fields: Cheap but Costly?

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

by Corinne Wilson

If you had a trimmed, fresh, natural, grass field to your left and a uniform turf field to you right, which would you choose to play on? The inner soccer player in me would instantly go for a grass pitch, and pro athletes would not be far behind. A recent survey of 1,511 active NFL players found that 73% of the players would rather play on a grass field. 18% preferred turf, while the remaining players did not lean one way or another. So why is this? Why do so many high-competing athletes choose grass over turf?

Look, you could go over countless reasons why this is so, but it really comes down to one thing. INJURIES, INJURIES, and MORE INJURIES, especially on turf. A firm but flexible, quick surface would be optimal for running, cutting, jumping, and every other thing players do while competing. Although we know that sometimes turf fields fall short of this standard. Cleats can occasionally get stuck in the synthetic blades and rubber in turf fields leading to devastating injuries, such as soft tissue, and joint injuries. Something that I have unfortunately witnessed several times is the tearing of multiple ligaments in the knee known as the ACL, MCL, PCL, and LCL (ACL tears are most common). According to an AJSM study, “artificial turf is an important risk factor for specific knee ligament injuries… Injury rates for PCL tears were significantly increased during competitions played on artificial turf as compared with natural grass. Lower NCAA divisions (I and II) also showed higher rates of ACL injuries during the competitions on artificial turf vs. natural grass.” And, let me tell you, these types of injuries are not pretty. Many require surgery, which is not always successful, and require months of hard recovery. Even then, athletes may need to get multiple future surgeries and might not ever get back their full range of motion.

Yet, with these downfalls, there is still some good about turf fields. They are cheaper and with certain budgets, sometimes a natural grass field is not a possibility. For your average baseball field, maintenance costs for grass is estimated to be around $23,000 per year, while synthetic turf was estimated to cost about $5,000 to keep up year round. So decision makers will sometimes opt for a less expensive, synthetic turf. A turf field is better than no field at all, and turf does not degrade and get damaged as easily as grass does. This allows for more practices and games to be played without a need for the field to rest and regrow. If it rains, teams can still play without worries about the condition of the ground. See, they do have some good takeaways!

To sum it up, turf fields undisputedly have their benefits as well as their drawbacks, which can sometimes prove to be costly in athletes' health. However, this does not mean there is no way to help prevent the injuries mentioned above. New types of shoes specifically designed for turf are of interest. Designers have started to use circular studs (or very short studs) on the bottom of shoes instead of the flat ridges you normally see to help avoid cleats getting stuck in the turf. So next time you're looking for new footwear, make sure to keep an eye out for these specialized cleats. And, of course, nothing is better than good old fashioned stretching. Make sure to include at least 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching before your game or practice and after your workout try some static stretching to cool down.


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