Dear Dr. Caraotta,
In your experience as a Chiropractic Orthopedist, have you seen many turf injuries in athletics?
Yes, and synthetic surfaces may in part be responsible for turf injuries. As one of the Team Physicians of the Rock River Raptors for 3 years when they were in town, we saw a myriad of turf injuries. Some of them were preseason injuries during practice that carried through throughout the playing season.
Although many health authorities tend to blame the problem directly on the characteristics of the surface, the American Chiropractic Association points out that much of the problem is the increased speed of the game which results from artificial surfaces. For example, in football, the synthetic turf increases running speed and foot gripping action. Thus it sets the stage for higher collision forces between players, with resultant increase in the severity of the injury sustained.
In timed straight line and slalom dashes, it has been reported that synthetic surfaces are approximately 20% faster than natural turf. While speed is one factor, two other factors are not to be overlooked which reflect their presence in injuries. Players are bigger, heavier and stronger than they were ten, twenty or thirty years ago this is true in every stage of athletics-from grade school through college and into professional sports. For example, professional football statistics show an 11% increase in player weight over the past 30 years. Another factor is competitiveness. All teams, amateur and professional alike, are better organized, more aggressively managed, and more demanding of their players. Today, we have stronger players, motivated to try harder, and surfaces to run faster. The result is that they hit harder and fall harder.
Another problem noted on fast-speed synthetic surfaces is less adjustment time. That is, with a better uniformity of surface, the player feels more secure running faster, and has less time to prepare or adjust for a fall.
Doctors of chiropractic throughout the U.S. are reporting an increase in orthopedic injuries and structural health problems, many of which are attributable to high speed sports. While many professional teams are now retaining doctors of chiropractic on their staffs to treat sprains and strains and maintain the playing efficiency of their players, the problem is more widespread than professional sports can rectify. The major threat is not to the well-cared-for professional, but rather to the overlooked amateur, especially the child. A structural injury can affect a child;s growth, development and achievement.
Of course, it is impossible to stand in the way of progress. We wouldn’t want to outlaw sports; we can’t breed smaller players; and it’s doubtful that we will go back to pock-marked natural turf. The answer then is closer supervision, a tightening of playing rules, more protective safety equipment, and a greater attention to health maintenance in every phase of sports activity.