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Phys Sportsmed. 2012 Nov;40(4):66-72. doi: 10.3810/psm.2012.11.1989.

A review of synthetic playing surfaces, the shoe-surface interface, and lower extremity injuries in athletes.

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  • 1Foot and Ankle Service, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, NY, USA. taylors@hss.edu

Abstract

The evolution of synthetic playing surfaces began in the 1960s and has had an impact on field use, shoe-surface dynamics, and the incidence of sports-related injuries. Modern third-generation turfs are being installed in recreational facilities and professional stadiums worldwide. Currently, > two-thirds of National Football League teams, > 100 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I football teams, and > 1000 high schools in the United States have installed synthetic playing surfaces. Those in favor of such playing surfaces note their unique combination of versatility and durability; they can be used in both ideal and inclement weather conditions. However, the more widespread installation and use of these surfaces have raised questions and concerns regarding the impact of artificial turf on the type and severity of sports-related injuries. There appears to be no question that the shoe-surface interface has a significant impact on such injuries. Independent variables such as weather conditions, contact versus noncontact sport, shoe design, and field wear complicate many of the results reported in the literature, thereby preventing an accurate assessment of the true risk(s) associated with certain shoe-surface combinations. Historically, studies suggest that artificial turf is associated with a higher incidence of injury. Furthermore, reliable biomechanical data suggest that both the torque and strain experienced by lower extremity joints generated by artificial surfaces may be more than those generated by natural grass fields. Recent data from the National Football League support this theory and suggest that elite athletes may sustain more injuries, even when playing on the newer artificial surfaces. By contrast, some reports based on data collected from lower-level athletes suggest that artificial turf may protect against injury. This review discusses the history of artificial surfaces, the biomechanics of the shoe-surface interface, and some common turf-related lower extremity injuries.

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