The risk of head injuries in contact sports, most notably football, has been a hot topic over the last decade. However, a recent study presented at the 2022 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition revealed that tackling rules and equipment changes are not the only factors at play.
Instead, according to Ian Chun, a medical student at the University of Hawaii, the kind of surface that athletes play on– turf versus grass– can greatly impact concussion risk.
More specifically, the study found that playing sports on synthetic turf fields can lead to an increased risk of serious head injuries as compared to natural grass.
Chun conducted the study by attaching sensors to manikins to compare impact deceleration on natural grass versus synthetic turf football fields at high schools. The experiment showed that synthetic turf fields make it harder for athletes to slow down, which suggests a greater risk of injury when playing on that surface.
Chun acknowledges that more research is needed to understand the risks of other playing surfaces. Nonetheless, his study may help inform sports management decisions moving forward to create playing environments that are safer for all athletes involved.
Many argue that injuries are just a part of the game when playing sports. However, swaths of people– from fans to parents to athletes themselves– have all begun to focus more on player safety in recent years.
This study shows that aside from play style, the actual spaces and surfaces where athletes compete should be considered in regard to athlete safety.
While synthetic turf fields are highly sought after since they usually offer lower maintenance costs, the surface has also been linked with knee and ankle injuries. Following this study, synthetic turf is now associated with higher concussion risk as well.
“Or findings show that when we consider safety in sports, we need to widen our view to include the spaces where we play,” Chun concluded.