Is there a risk associated with playing soccer on artificial turf fields with normal soccer boots?

Over the last year our Balmain chiropractors and physiotherapists have been seeing a steady increase in the amount of adolescent knee injuries following both training and competition on artificial turf soccer fields.

The good news with playing sports on turf

The good news is that our children are playing more sport, moving more and participating in physical activity. Increased physical activity during development of our children is associated with a huge array of positives and advantages, including better youth weight management, reduced risk of adolescent low back pain and better performance in the class room (and many more).

Artificial turf soccer fields last a lot longer, need less maintenance, are less impacted by weather and overuse, wear and tear (carrying capacity) and need less recovery time (allow normal turf/grass to grow back properly). They are also a lot more consistent to train and play on and look great.

The bad news

In our opinion, there is limited information from local councils on the risk of playing sports, such as soccer and football, on artificial turf fields and specifically, about which footwear is most appropriate. Let’s discuss this further.

Soccer boots – normal boots Vs artificial turf boots

Soccer boots have cleats (studs) on the bottom of the shoe to provide grip and traction. These studs are also called ‘spikes’ and ‘blades’ amongst kids. Normal soccer shoes made for normal grass soccer fields have large studs for more grip. Artificial turf soccer boots have very small studs in a particular pattern that leads to the ‘correct’ and ‘safe’ amount of grip on an artificial turf soccer field.

Where does it all go wrong?

The problem with normal soccer boots is that the studs are too big (and not in the right pattern) for artificial turf fields. They grip too much – the fancy word for this is rotational traction. Artificial turf fields increase the rotational traction. This just means that get stuck (grip) more when we step and turn (cutting, change direction quickly). Athletes describe this as getting ‘stuck’ when changing direction.

So, whats the problem with griping and twisting? It’s how we develop knee tears such as ACL and meniscus tear (structures of the knee joint). Normal studs (bigger ones) have been suggested to put significantly more pressure on the ACL when played on artificial turf. Artificial turf puts more general load through the knees, making the knee bend in more (valgus load and internal rotation). These are risk factors associated with knee injuries.

What does Football NSW say?

Here is a direct quote from Football NSW. “There is a common perception that there are more sports injuries on synthetic than on natural turf athletic fields. Many factors influence the rate of sports injuries, including the type of playing surface. The many kinds of synthetic turf surfaces and changes in the turf products over the years complicate the assessment of how the playing surface affects injury rates”. This quote as reused by Football NSW and originally quote from the New York State Department of Health.

What does the research say?

Lets make this really simple, there is more pressure going through the knees when wearing normal boots on artificial turf. This causes more movements of the knee that make knee injury more likely when wearing normal boots on artificial truf.

Is anything guaranteed? Of course not, you could get a knee injury tripping and walking across the street. However, why take the risk with our kids in soccer?

The bottom line

  • If your kids are playing on normal grass/turf fields, make them wear normal soccer shoes
  • If your kinds are playing on artificial turf fields, make them wear artificial turf shoes
  • Should you panic? No. We are not saying that you will 100% sustain a knee injury if you wear normal boots of artificial turf. There is no sufficient evidence for such as claim. However, we are saying that there is an increased risk based on what the research suggests.