Analysis of different outdoor playing surfaces suggests falls on artificial turf may pose a greater risk of concussion than natural turf
October 7, 2022
Athletes who play on synthetic turf surfaces may be at greater risk of concussion than those who play on natural grass.
Among high school athletes in the United States, about 20% of concussions result from the person hitting their head on the playing surface.
Artificial turf is becoming increasingly popular across the country: it is estimated that there are currently over 16,000 synthetic turf pitches in the United States, and up to 1500 new built every year.
Several studies have shown that ankle and knee injuries are more common on harder synthetic playing fields than on grass, both in professional athletes and amateur players. Still, Ian Chun of the University of Hawaii says there isn’t “a lot of information on the different rates of concussions due to field hardness.”
Chun conducted a series of experiments in which he dropped a 20-kilogram dummy onto 10 natural grass playgrounds and 9 artificial grass surfaces. Chun placed accelerometers on the model’s right ear, top of the head and forehead, before fitting him with an American football helmet. He then lowered it from a table 170 centimeters high – chosen to simulate the height of a teenage athlete – with the dummy landing on the left side, front or back and measured the impact.
After 1,710 total drops, Chun found that impact deceleration – a measure of how quickly something in motion is stopped – was significantly higher on synthetic playgrounds in all three drop positions. Depending on the position of the fall, the deceleration measured in g-forces could reach 23 g higher on artificial turf compared to natural surfaces. Previous research has shown that an impact of 40 g or more increases the risk of concussion, but some people can sustain a concussion at lower forces.
“Our study suggests that artificial pitches are a harder playing surface. This translates to a theoretical increased risk of concussion from contact with playing surfaces,” says Chun, who is presenting this work Oct. 8 at the American Academy of Pediatrics Conference and Exhibition in California.
Sudden deceleration of the brain in the skull is known to cause concussion. “I think future research looking at actual concussion rates in different playing fields and environments would be an interesting follow-up study and strengthen the link between harder playing surfaces and concussion risk,” says Chun.
Kristen Dams-O’Connor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, these results point to a possible way to reduce the risk of injury. “We are now at this very interesting crossroads where evidence has accumulated that even in the absence of concussion, there is a risk to brain health in contact sports,” she says.
Dams-O’Connor says she would like to see additional work confirming the results and performing similar tests on other playing surfaces. “We should consider all possible avenues to make the sport safer,” she says.
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