October 7, 2022
Athletes playing on turf playing fields may have a greater risk of suffering a concussion than ones playing on grass, according to University of Hawaii research published Friday, particularly noteworthy as concerns about head trauma in the National Football League continue to grow.
Half of NFL teams play their home games on artificial turf.
The research found a “significantly greater deceleration impact” on turf than on grass, the paper’s authors Nathaniel Villanueva and Ian Chun wrote in an abstract of the research published Friday and presented at an American Academy of Pediatrics conference this weekend.
Researchers strapped a football helmet and sensors to a life-like mannequin and dropped the mannequin on its front, back and side a total of 1,710 on 10 different grass fields and nine turf fields, measuring the fall’s impact with sensor data.
First invented in the 1950s, the artificial turf market hit a value of $3.2 billion last year and is growing quickly, with turf fields exploding in popularity in amateur and professional ranks in recent years, with scores of high schools nationwide opting for fake grass.
The study comes at a particularly crucial moment in concussion discourse, as the NFL players’ union conducts an investigation into the league’s handling of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s health after Tagovailoa suffered a gruesome head and neck injury last week when thrown to Paycor Stadium’s artificial turf, four days after suffering a different potential head injury under disputed circumstances.
Chun wrote in an email to Forbes it’s reasonable to conclude “harder playing surface poses an increased risk of injury,” but added he would caution against “generalizing the results of our research to a professional level,” noting turf NFL fields “have strict guidelines and manuals on how to maintain their fields to playing standards which are undoubtedly stricter” than the local high school fields where the research was conducted.
Previous research has found a greater risk of lower-body injuries on turf and worries about rubber pellets frequently found on turf fields being carcinogenic have previously made waves, but there is little prior research done on how playing surfaces may affect head trauma. Turf’s increasing prevalence is largely due to the significantly lower maintenance costs for the surface. Turf fields typically consist of a layer of concrete followed by the artificial grass and then crumb rubber designed to cushion the impact of falls. Much of the concern about concussions in football centers on the prevalence of the chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative degenerative brain condition with symptoms including severe depression and mood swings which has been found in 99% of the brains of former NFL players, several of whom died by suicide.
50%. That’s how many NFL teams play their home games on artificial turf fields, according to NBC Sports. Among the 30 NFL stadiums, 14 have turf, including MetLife Stadium and SoFi Stadium, the respective shared home stadiums for the New York Giants and New York Jets and the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams.
JC Tretter, the president of the NFL players’ union, called for the league to make all playing surfaces natural grass in a 2020 essay. Tretter cited league injury data between 2012 and 2018 showing players were 28% more likely to suffer non-contact lower extremity injuries on turf than on grass. A petition for all NFL teams to install grass playing surfaces took off in February after then Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium, with stars like the San Francisco 49ers’ Joey Bosa backing the measure.