Female soccer players suffered fewer severe injuries while competing on an artificial surface called FieldTurf than when playing on natural grass fields, in a new study.
Researchers found women's college teams had an average of 7.7 injuries - both minor and serious - for every 10 matches played on FieldTurf, compared to 9.5 injuries per 10 matches on grass. Most competitive collegiate soccer seasons consist of 20 to 25 matches.
The findings suggest "FieldTurf is a practical alternative to natural grass," study author Michael Meyers of Idaho State University in Pocatello told Reuters Health.
Early versions of synthetic turf that appeared in the late 1960s and 1970s were sometimes little more than a layer of thick, carpet-like material laid over concrete, he said. In today's U.S. artificial surface market, more than 30 companies compete with proprietary mixes of what the industry calls "infill systems," which can include rubber, silica sand and polyethylene fibers.
Montreal-based FieldTurf, which funded 40 percent of the current study, relies on a blend of silica sand and cryogenically ground rubber for its fields.
Estimates vary, but artificial field turf surfaces can last up to 10 years, with initial installment costs ranging from $800,000 to $1 million and annual maintenance fees of about $2,500.
"As the impact of the game increases, as the adverse weather worsens, FieldTurf provides a more consistent surface," than grass fields, said Meyers, who does not own any stock in the company.
The new study, published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, is based on injury data from nearly 800 matches reported by athletic trainers at 13 universities classified as National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division IA. Women's soccer programs that spent nearly equal competition time on FieldTurf and natural grass were included.
There were 693 injuries recorded during the five-year study period, including 130 substantial or severe injuries.
Substantial injuries requiring one to three weeks off were twice as common on natural grass as turf, Meyers found.