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The artificial turf controversy: Scientific research shows an increase in ankle injuries on turf

By Andrew Crowell

Ashley Westwood (Photo courtesy of Cisco's Art)

Artificial turf as a playing surface has long been a topic of debate among sports fans and players alike, especially with all the speculation on whether Lionel Messi will play MLS games on artificial turf surfaces. This debate has recently heated up even more, as the NFL season has come back around.

A meta-analysis published in 2022 found that foot and ankle injuries are more common on turf than on natural grass. This analysis suggests that knee and hip injuries are equal on artificial turf and natural grass.

This analysis is not the only one to demonstrate these findings. In 2019, a four-year comparison study was conducted strictly on MLS injury surveillance at the Kerlan Jobe Institute in Santa Monica, California. They studied 2,714 in-game injuries and found that there were no statistically significant differences in knee and hip injuries between artificial turf compared to natural grass. This study found there was an increased chance of ankle and foot injuries on turf.

This type of injury is exactly what happened to New York Jets Quarterback Aaron Rodgers this past weekend during the NFL's opening week. Attempting to avoid a sack, Rodgers planted his foot and caused a rapid increase in the load on the Achilles tendon, causing it to rupture.

The Achilles tendon connects the gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles) to the calcaneus (heel bone). This area is exactly what was injured by Colorado Rapids captain Jack Price back in March of this year, putting him out of the rest of this MLS season.

After Rodgers' injury on Monday, the NFLPA spoke out calling for all NFL teams to switch to grass.

The NFLPA has been very vocal about their stance on this issue, in an attempt to protect the players they represent. Other professional athletes have mentioned that the turf in the States has not been an issue.

Charlotte FC midfielder Ashley Westwood said that he has had no issues with playing on the artificial turf at Bank of America Stadium this season. "With a bad ankle, I was worried...but I stood up to it. I'm very lucky with ours, ours is very good," commented Westwood in a press conference yesterday.

This debate has followed a rollercoaster pattern in terms of popularity, but only time will tell what happens with fields in stadiums across America.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and my work should never be taken as medical advice. All opinions are my own.