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Health & Exercise Forum

Artificial Field Turf versus Natural Grass

Oct 15, 2009

Dr. Paul MackareyFrankie Colletta, the area’s leading running back from Delaware Valley High School sustained a season-ending ankle fracture on October 9th against West Scranton High School at Scranton Memorial Stadium. Over the past week, I have received several inquiries from athletes, parents and coaches about the impact of the new FieldTurf at Scranton Memorial Stadium on his injury. Some readers feel that the injury would not have happened on natural grass while others feel old-style artificial turf is better.

Old-style artificial turf is the indoor/outdoor, green, low-nap carpet, laid on top of a hard surface, such as the field surface at Lackawanna County Stadium. New FieldTurf is a new and improved artificial surface with longer artificial grass-like fibers filled in with dirt like tire chips. This is the surface-type at Scranton Memorial Stadium. Natural grass is good old-fashioned grass such as the surface at Abington High School.

Turf Injuries

A recent 5-year prospective study, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, compared football injuries sustained on artificial surfaces and natural grass. In 240 games over 5 years 353 injuries were reported. Injuries were classified as minor, substantial or severe, based on the amount of time lost from the game.

The results found that old-style artificial turf had the highest injury rates for all types of injuries, especially contusions and abrasions when compared to other surfaces. FieldTurf had a slightly higher incidence of minor injuries such as muscle strains, muscle spasms/cramps (possibly due to increase in speed) and skin abrasions. Natural grass had slightly more ligament strains/tears than FieldTurf.

Substantial and severe injuries were comparable on both FieldTurf and natural grass as found in previous studies. No differences were found between offense or defense positions. However, the type of severe injury was different. For example, muscle/tendon overload injuries such as strains and tears were higher on FieldTurf, while cranial and cervical injuries were higher on natural grass.

In summary, most football injuries are caused by collisions with other players, the equipment, the ground and shoe/surface traction. Artificial surfaces were introduced in the mid-1960’s with mixed reaction. The quality of the artificial surfaces continues to improve. Newer artificial surfaces such as FieldTurf offer significant improvement over the previous types. While injuries may vary when comparing the new FieldTurf to natural grass, both offer advantages and disadvantages with similar injury risk. While Frankie Colletta’s injury was very unfortunate, the research suggests that the playing surface was not a factor.

Jean Kowalski, MS, ATC, head athletic trainer at Scranton Prep, offers the following tips for different playing surfaces that she recommends to Prep football players:

  • Athletes need time to adjust to a new surface. For example, if you are playing a Friday night game on old-style artificial turf, then try to practice a day or two before the game on that surface.
  • Proper conditioning, proper equipment/footwear, pre game warm-up and stretching are essential components of injury prevention on all surfaces.
  • Natural grass after a very dry summer, such as this summer in NEPA, creates a very hard surface and can act like old-style artificial turf.

Ms. Kowalski reports that local student athletes are very pleased with the new FieldTurf. They feel it is softer and more forgiving, while still allowing adequate traction.

Old-Style Artificial Turf:

  • Allow adequate practice and warm-up time
  • Wear sneakers or turf shoes instead of cleats to improve consistent traction (turf shoes are best if turf is wet)
  • Cover up skin to prevent turf-burn (cover forearms, elbows & knees). The older the turf, the worse the burn

New FieldTurf:

  • Allow adequate practice and warm-up time
  • Wear cleats for traction
  • Cover up skin to prevent turf-burn (cover forearms, elbows & knees)

Natural Grass:

  • Allow adequate practice and warm-up time
  • Wear cleats for traction
  • Replace cleats as needed
  • Cover skin if grass surface is dry & hard

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.
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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an affiliated faculty member at the University of  Scranton, PT Dept.