It is universally known that football is bad for the health of your back and joints. Health professionals, like those at Green Oaks Spine and Sport, emphasize that while repeated high impact hits can account for much of the pain; it is not the only factor to take into consideration. Technological advances in padding and updated officiating guidelines aim to prevent the worst of injuries; however, the constant, high-power contact made by football players and the constant impact with the ground creates the perfect combination for back and joint injuries. While most of the attention on player safety is focused on high-performance padding and helmets, there is an army of scientists who examine the quality of the field and its turf and thoroughly vet a field before any NFL game to ensure there are not injuries due to playing surface. Players also have their own preferences of playing surface. Turf vs. grass and warm weather vs. cold weather are all factors taken into consideration by players before every game. Unlike other sports, like basketball, that occur in climate controlled arenas, football players are at the mercy of the weather. So what do they prefer with regards to turf?
Recent surveys have shown NFL players overwhelming preferred to play on a natural grass surface. While research is still being conducted to determine if natural grass definitively causes less injuries than artificial turf, anecdotal evidence from players confirms this theory. Athletes commonly complain that artificial turf results in more fatigue and can lead to an increase in aches and pains following a game. Experts caution that not all turf is created equal. First, some turf is substantially harder than natural grass. Constant contact with the ground both through tackles and running can cause lingering pain days after the sporting event. In addition, turf can be less forgiving then grass and cause feet to become stuck leading to over-extension injuries or ligament tears. This phenomenon is known as getting “caught in the turf”. Finally, some athletes are concerned about the black beads imbedded in the turf that provide additional cushioning. Sometimes made out of shredded tire parts, these black beads can contain chemicals and carcinogens that can be detrimental to a player’s health.
Players have also overwhelmingly voted on grass that is grown in warm weather climates as their favorite playing surface. The warm weather Bermuda grass found in stadiums in Arizona, Miami, and Tampa Bay has a soft sod and can regrow quickly in these warm climates. Stadiums in colder climates have a harder time maintaining natural grass due to limited sun exposure and low temperatures. In addition, stadiums that require a complete re-sod, which is common in cold weather environments, can run up a bill of over $100,000 per instance. The difference in temperatures also affects the prevalence of injury. As would be expected, there is an increase in the number of injuries on cold grass – which many times is also wet – as opposed to dry grass found in many warmer locations. Studies have shown cold weather is associated with lower knee and ankle injury risk in outdoor stadiums.
The turf wars surrounding football fields will continue to battle on as players and athletic trainers voice their opinions on which surfaces are best for athletes and their health. Any athlete – at any level – should always listen to their body and consult with a medical professional should they feel something is off. Medical advancements have ensured rehabilitation from common injuries can be accomplished in a quick and effective manner, and allow the athlete to return to the field quickly.