Should the NFL Get Rid of Turf Fields?

If you have been following this blog for sometime, you know I love diving into all aspects of injuries. This year has been one of the most injury ridden seasons across all sports.  This is not a surprise, as I discussed back in July, the Covid offseason was going to put athletes at high risk for injury as they were not able to properly prepare for the season.  This prediction was proven correct, with ACL, hamstring and Achilles injury rates all being significantly increased.(Look back at my midseason “All Injury Team”)  However, another topic of conversation has presented itself this season in regards to injury risk and prevention; “Should the NFL get rid of Turf fields”  This came to light after the San Francisco 49ers lost many of their top players to injury on Metlife Stadium “sticky” turf. Check out some of the tweets that followed that game


As a researcher my first thought was to turn to the research and here is what I found….

Artificial turf is an important risk factor for specific knee ligament injuries in NCAA football. Injury rates for PCL tears were significantly increased during competitions played on artificial turf as compared with natural grass. Lower NCAA divisions (II and III) also showed higher rates of ACL injuries during competitions on artificial turf versus natural grass.”

Loughran GJ, Vulpis CT, Murphy JP, Weiner DA, Svoboda SJ, Hinton RY, Milzman DP. Incidence of Knee Injuries on Artificial Turf Versus Natural Grass in National Collegiate Athletic Association American Football: 2004-2005 Through 2013-2014 Seasons. Am J Sports Med. 2019 May;47(6):1294-1301. doi: 10.1177/0363546519833925. Epub 2019 Apr 17. PMID: 30995074

The rate of ACL injury on artificial surfaces is 1.39 times higher than the injury rate on grass surfaces. Non-contact injuries occurred more frequently on artificial turf surfaces (44.29%) than on natural grass (36.12%).

Dragoo JL, Braun HJ, Harris AH. The effect of playing surface on the incidence of ACL injuries in National Collegiate Athletic Association American Football. Knee. 2013 Jun;20(3):191-5. doi: 10.1016/j.knee.2012.07.006. Epub 2012 Aug 21. PMID: 22920310.

High-quality studies support an increased rate of ACL injury on synthetic playing surfaces in FOOTBALL, but there is no apparent increased risk in soccer.

Among these, 4 studies (753 ACL injuries) found an increased risk of ACL injury on artificial playing surfaces

Balazs GC, Pavey GJ, Brelin AM, Pickett A, Keblish DJ, Rue JP. Risk of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury in Athletes on Synthetic Playing Surfaces: A Systematic Review. Am J Sports Med. 2015 Jul;43(7):1798-804. doi: 10.1177/0363546514545864. Epub 2014 Aug 27. PMID: 25164575.


As we see from these research studies, playing football on artificial turf puts athletes at significantly higher risk of injury compared playing on natural grass. When we think of how much many of the top players are worth to their team and how much money NFL teams bring in, this should be considered in the building of new stadiums. For current stadiums, it becomes much more complicated. For stadiums such as Metlife, which are outdoors, I believe that these should be trasitioned to grass, as it would be a much lower cost. For stadiums which are domes, this is probably not a option as it would be a huge task to make it possible.

I hope to see the NFL enforce a rule that all new stadiums must be grass fields. For anyone who questions how this can be completed can look to Arizona and Las Vegas stadiums which have retractable fields. Check out this video of Las Vegas retractable field

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