Synthetic vs Natural Turf?

written by Blake Walmsley

No doubt you would have seen the state of the Northern Beaches playing fields lately, looking more like dust bowls than coastal fringe fields.

With recent suggestions to increase playing field space in the Northern Beaches, debate is raging over synthetic turf or natural turf?  There is a preconceived thought that synthetic turf harbours more injuries for its players. Is this the case? What about other health risks?

You’d think that natural surfaces are better for you than synthetic turf. Synthetic turf has been shown to increase peak torque force at joints, and have detrimental physiological responses. Those of you that have played on synthetic fields would know that your ankle and knee joints feel more sore following, and your feet feel more battered and bruised than usual. Do footballers who play on synthetic turf get more injuries? You may be surprised.

The research shows some interesting results. A recent study by Balazs et al, 2015 showed no increase in ACL injuries on synthetic turf, with a large sample size of 963. Blanco et al., 2016 also found no increase in injury in young male footballers, albeit with a smaller size of 80. One study even found a reduced range of injury in 20-25 year old females with a sample size of 797 games played. But conversely, there is evidence to show there is increased injuries on synthetic fields during matches, but not training (Sousa et al., 2013).

What is the thinking behind this? Synthetic fields are manufactured and have a very flat and uniform surface, compared to most natural turf fields. This gives a faster, more skill-orientated passing game, making first-touch skills less of an importance due to the unpredictability of the field.

Synthetic fields did show more contusions, grazes and haematomas, with a incidence of 37%, compared to sprains and strains incidence of 34.8% in a study done by Akkaya et al, 2011.

So next time you line up on a synthetic pitch, know that you are at no greater risk of injury and enjoy the game!

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