Beckham’s Lament: The Pains & Strains of Playing on Infilled Turf, by Guive Mirfendereski, www.SynTurf.org, Newton, Mass., September 17, 2007, updated October 20, 2007; November 12, 2007. IN 2006, the NFL Players Playing Surfaces Opinion Survey polled a total of 1511 NFL players from all 32 teams: 64.93% of the respondents said artificial infilled turf was more likely to contribute to injury. More significantly, 73.87% of the respondents said artificial infilled surface caused more soreness and fatigue to play on. Therefore, not surprisingly, the most common player comment was “make all fields grass to prevent injury.” In2006, the survey of Switzerland’s Super League soccer players revealed that 88% of the respondents did not like playing on artificial turf, citing fear of injury and greater risk of injury as the main reasons for the rejection of artificial turf. The respondents believed that the long-term consequences of artificial turf have not yet been adequately investigated. In 2006, a Swedish study found a higher risk of ankle sprain on artificial turf compared with grass. It concluded, however, there was no evidence of a greater risk of injury when soccer was played on artificial turf, compared with natural grass. The higher incidence of ankle sprain on artificial turf however warranted further attention, the study recommended. In 2005, 74% of the respondents in a survey of Norwegian professional soccer players thought artificial turf increased the danger of injuries. More significantly, a plurality of 44% of the respondents believed that continuously playing on artificial turf produced more injuries and that players must even stop playing soccer at a younger age, while 30% considered this to be perhaps true. David Beckham, for better or worse, is an international soccer superstar. Last month, he openly dissed FieldTurf as a playing surface. "As a professional athlete, you can't play a game like soccer on that sort of field," Beckham told reporters. "You can't ask any athlete to perform at a high level on the FieldTurf." Most significantly, Beckham said, "What it does to your body as a soccer player, you're in bits for three days after that." In a related story, the sportswriter Frank Dell’Apa quoted the coach of the New England Revolution as saying the Gillette Stadium’s FieldTurf has “no give in it. Grass is still the best surface." And earlier, in May, the coach of the major League Soccer team Chicago Fire complained aboutplaying three games in a row on turf: "If we played on it a lot it would take its toll on our bodies.'' The turf is harder, he said, and “we try to stay off of it as much as possible.''
Beckham’s lament about playing on the artificial turf fields was echoed recently in the remarks by Garry O’Connor, a former player with Lokomotiv Moscow soccer team and his experience at Moscow’s Luzhniki Olympic Stadium. In referring to the recent hernia operation had by Michael Owen, a striker on the England squad, O’Connor warned that Owen risked injury if he played on artificial grass. “It used to hurt me [O’Connor] for three two four days after I’d played on it. I would really ache because it’s just not a natural surface. It really messes with your body. So, if anyone is a doubt with muscle injury, they could be in trouble,” said O’Connor. Associated Press, “Playing qualifier against England on artificial grass is necessary, Russia coach says,” published October 11, 2007, in International Herald Tribune, available at
What is going on here? The complaint seems to be about the general effect on joints and ligaments from continuously playing on turf, resulting in an accelerated wear-and-tear. This in turn renders an athlete vulnerable to greater risk of contact or non-contact injury. The number one factor in joint and ligament injury among athletes playing on turf is the traction of the field, ironically, a selling point for the manufacturers and promoters of the turf.Because artificial turf has greater traction than grass, it enables players to start, stop and run faster. This creates a greater torque, which places increased strain on the joints, which in turn “speed[s] up the point at which injury is sustained.” In a non-contact injury scenario, traction can be the factor in a player suffering an anterior cruciate ligament ACL tear as he makes a sharp-angle turn to complete his route. Or, similarly, a biomechanical event could cause an ACL tear in a soccer player as he plants his foot to cut or fake his opponent. The general term “foot fixation injury” describes knee, ankle and foot sprains and tears that “occur when the athlete’s foot remains locked on the surface while the rest of the athlete’s body continues to twist and move.” This kind of injury seems to occur more on artificial turf, because the surface has less give than natural earth-and-grass fields.
The more familiar “turf-toe injury,” generally associated with playing on artificial turf, is a sprain, dislocation or fracture of the metatarsophalangeal MP joint caused by hyperextension or hyperflexion of the MP joint in the ball of the foot. Hyperextension of the joint is intensified when an athlete’s toe slams into the end of the shoe during a sudden stop. According to Professor Michael Meyers at West Texas A&M University, there is more torque, more velocity and more traction on artificial turf and that can lead to more muscle strains and spasms than playing on natural grass. Similarly, Brad Fresenburg, turfgrass expert at the University of Missouri, believes that the greater traction obtained on artificial turf increases the potential pressure on joints and bones from the inability of a fully planted cleat-wearing foot to divot or twist out. When teams play on grass, Fresenburg sates, they leave divots and ripped out grass. While most complain about the damaged field, in reality divots mean that the field is doing its job -- yielding to the athletes' cleats.
According to Professor Andy McNitt at Penn State University, on artificial turf, the peak happened very, very early in the traction curve … [I]f it happens very early, the joints will take most of the shock. If it happens later in the curve, as is the case with natural turf, the athlete will have time to react and have the shock taken up in the muscles instead of the joints.” The challenege of research therefore is “trying to figure out where the new infills fall: Do they act more like the old synthetic turf or do they act more like natural turf?" The paucity of knowledge about the risks of foot-fixation injury associated with playing on infilled fields is due in part to the “newness” of the “new genration” of artifcial turf fields. Also there is a dearth of documentation of injuries caused by infilled surfaces. However, reportedly, FieldTurf is involved in an injury-tracking system; the company also claims to conduct independent safety tests. The jury is out on non-contact/biomechanical strains and injuries associated with playing on infilled surfaces and the wear-and-tear toll that it exacts on the long-term wellness of former players. What we know most reliably about the turf surface is ironically not as much from “studies” but rather from the players’ own gripes, as voiced in surveys and interviews. So far, it seems as though turf’s much-acclaimed traction is a curse in disguise. A vigorous due diligence should precede the decision to install an infilled field. The manufacturer and installers should be required to disclose the long-term and short-term risks and likelihood of foot-fixation injury associated with the use of the product. The private or public decision- and policy-maker should require disclosure of the raw data, reports and results complied by manufacturers and installers as to injury suffered on the product. There also should be disclosure, with specificity, of the terms of manufacturer’s and installer’s warranty, and the “errors & omissions” terms of insurance policies that cover the product and workmanship. Responses like “the warranty is a standard industry warranty” or “the terms are confidential or trade secrets” are woefully inadequate. Ultimately, the decision-maker should insist on disclosure of litigation history of the manufacturer and installer, specifically, as to breach of warranty and product liability claims against them. In terms of product liability, the absence of warning by the manufacturer or buyer as to risks and dangers of the turf, coupled with the existence of a suitable alternative to turf (i.e., natural grass), presumably makes the municipality or private institution complicit in offering a “defective” product to the player-users.
Parents, above all, need to consider if the convenience of playing more games on a well-drained and mud-free surface outweighs exposing one’s child to down-the-road untold consequences of playing on artificial turf, such as a shortened athletic career or life-long pains and strains associated with playing on turf. There are myriad reasons why artificial turf is not a worthy substitute for natural grass, including environmental, but, for parents and public officials, a child’s wellness should come first and foremost. While physical activity and organized sports are a part of wellness, there is very little biological or physiological reason, if any, that requires play on artificial turf.
 Frank Dell’Apa, “Artificial turf not to Beckham’s liking,” Special to ESPNsoccernet
Updated: August 13, 2007, available at
http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story?id=452763&root=mls&&cc=5901. The reporter offered the observation that “There is not enough evidence to condemn the FieldTurf, which is a great advancement from the AstroTurf which plagued sports in America for years. But there is, and never will be, evidence that FieldTurf extends careers of soccer players. Veteran players, and those returning from injuries, are likely to continue shying away from it.”
 See, for example, Global Sports Systems’ marketing information for Xtreme Turf: “While competitors may focus on ‘carpet specifications’ such as pile height and pile weight, we scientifically engineer our Xtreme Turf systems to maintain our ‘performance specifications,’ such as abrasion, foot stability, traction and shock absorbency.” http://www.globalsportssystems.com/products.htm. See also FieldTurf’s claim at
 University of Missouri, “Synthetic Turf Playing Fields Present Unique Dangers,” Applied Turfgrass Science, November 2, 2005, posted on Plant Management Network's website (November 3, 2005), available at http://www.plantmanagementnetwork.org/pub/ats/news/2005/synthetic. Contact information for this source: Brad Fresenburg, Department of Horticulture, University of Missouri – phone: (573) 442-4893, and Chuck Adamson [firstname.lastname@example.org], Senior Information Specialist, University of Missouri – phone:(573) 882-6843.
Kevin Newell, “Turf going: how synthetic surface companies are striving for acceptance and safety,” Scholar Coach & Athletic Director, part 2, January 2004, available at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FIH/is_6_73/ai_n17206509 . Naturally, in the face of wear and tear, compaction and lack of maitenance a infilled turf surface would soon emulate the hardness and super- traction charractrisitcs of old artifcial turf. Preliminary results of Penn State traction study is reported in, Andrew S. McNitt and Dianne Petrunak, The Pennsylvania State University, “Evaluation of Playing Surface Characteristics of Various In-Filled Systems,” avialble at http://cropsoil.psu.edu/mcnitt/infill6.cfm.
 See, generally, for example, William Crain, “Turf Wars,” in The New York Times (Op-ed), Nytimes.com , N.Y. Region/Opinions, September 16, 2007. This piece appeared in the hard copy of the September 16th edition of the Sunday New York Times edition for the Connecticut region. It is available at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/16/opinion/nyregionopinions/16NJcrain.html?ref=nyregionopinions. Crain, a professor of psychology at the City College of New York, is the author of “Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement-Oriented Society.”