Keywords: Playing surface, concussion (PubMed Search)
Synthetic turf playing surfaces have been growing in popularity over the last decade and seem to have become a new standard.
Due to the need for durable fields that can accommodate multiple teams/activities, in addition to the high cost of maintaining grass and the need to conserve water, many parks and schools have switched from grass to turf. Turf is advertised as maintenance free but ….this is not the case.
Locally, at M&T Bank Stadium, groundskeepers drive a LitterKat turf sweeper across the field for 4 hours 2-3 times a week to ensure that the synthetic rubber is cleaned and distributed evenly. The field is also repainted every 4 games because the paint may become hard. The cost of this level of maintenance is beyond what many parks and local high schools can afford.
A recent study examined high school concussion data at almost 2000 high schools with over 14,000 recorded concussions. Researchers concluded that more concussions occurred in games than practices. Interestingly, they also found that playing surface was significantly associated with concussion. Almost 90% of all injuries occurred on turf-based surfaces. Turf outweighed all other mechanisms of injury, including helmet-to-helmet hits and grass playing surface. Between 10 and 15.5% of concussions occur from helmet to ground contact. In the NFL, this mechanism accounts for about 1 in 7 concussions.
Attempting to limit total exposure time in practice and games on turf surfaces may be beneficial until more study is needed.