The True Cause of The NFL’s Knee Injury Problem
Turf fields do have a direct impact on the increase in injuries we see in the NFL. 13 out of 32 stadiums sport an artificial turf material and even with less than half the number of fields of grass there is still more injuries on turf. An article written about the statistics of injuries on turf and grass fields from all the games from 2000-2009 found that there is a 22% increase in knee sprains on turf and a 67% increase in number of ACL sprains.
With this being said what exactly is the material the players are playing on? Field turf was a huge hit in the late 90s and most teams sport it now a days on their fields. The catch is though that the traction is so good with the new technology cleats that it is even easier to get a cleat stuck in the turf when planting or cutting.
We saw a prime example of this in 2017 when Bears tight end Zach Miller went to just plant while running from a defender and his knee bent the completely wrong when his knee just got caught up in the turf. It sparked a huge debate about the traction that turf causes while playing because Miller almost lost his leg due to the injury.
A study done in the late 90s tested a number of cleats from manufacturers and found that most cleats cause a safety implication because of how good the cleats react with the turf. The study suggested that people where turf cleats but as we all know no football players where them they all wear football cleats. Maybe the NFL can work on new cleat technology but for now safety precautions should be in effect after horrific injuries like Millers’.
Knee sprains are caused by unnatural movements during physical activity. Sudden turns or pivoting can cause injury to your ligaments. When these players get that much traction and that much body weight on a cut in the turf their body and knees cannot handle the pressure and force, so they give in on them. It’s a tragic thing to see. It is almost like you can’t watch a game without being scared every play someone can get hurt and their season can end on one play.
In 2010 a doctor by the name of Dr. Geier was asked a question on his blog about knee injuries. The question was “My question for you is do you think playing on turf field compared to regular grass has an impact on injuries?” “Our varsity football team practices on grass field and play more than half of their games on turf. We had 3 meniscus injuries on the turf fields. Two were medial and one lateral; all 3 were repair. Also had a tibia/fibula fracture without impact. When asking the injured kids what they thought about the turf they all said it feels like their cleats stick into the ground.” This question and evaluation was brought in by a random blogger named Gino who must play high school football.
The thing about Gino is the answer he received from the doctor was that it was the same results we talked about earlier 22% increase and 67% increase. He used the same study from earlier. Here is what he said, “In a study performed by the National Football League Injury and Safety Panel, published in the October 2012 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine, Elliott B. Hershman et al., reviewed injury data from NFL games played between 2000 and 2009.They found that the injury rate of knee sprains as a whole was 22% higher on Field Turf than on natural grass. While MCL sprains did not occur at a rate significantly higher than on grass, rates of ACL sprains were 67% higher on Field Turf.”
There is obviously a clear correlation between turf and injuries. Yes, it was 3 kids in high school games but, my point is that in the article Dr. Geier flat out gives us the results from a study done by the NFL and there were increases in knee sprains to the ACL and knee sprains altogether. This being said, knee sprains and other major knee injuries are overlooked in the NFL and some players may have to get surgery done multiple times throughout their careers due to sprains and tears.
I for one encountered my own injury on turf during a game where I played on turf. Of course, the one play I get put in at running back to run a jet sweep at the receiver position I tear my MCL. I just see it happening all over the place. Football is filled with injuries and at all levels but at the NFL level there is no doubt an increase of knee injuries on turf because of the size and speed of the players their bodies cannot keep up with the field conditions and wear and tear.
There is an article written about the cause factors of these freak knee injuries. The article states, “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.”
As we see there is a lot of factors that it could come down to for cause of injuries but, with biomechanical data it says that it is caused by the torque and strain on joints. This is because the shoe surface is so good on turf that the stress endured by players knees is unbearable for the players knees. The article also claims that indeed there is a higher incidence of injury on artificial fields.
There can be tons of factors involved in why these freak knee injuries occur so often on artificial turf but, the only thing that we know is that artificial must go. If the injury rates keep coming back year after year the same, then something must be done. It’ll just be another one of Roger Goddell’s flaws in his term as commissioner. Player safety is huge in the NFL now a days with players retiring after a couple seasons in their prime because they must look into the future and see if they can really go through with the injury worries anymore. Being an NFL athlete is hard and it takes a tole on your body but, when you are playing on these dangerous surfaces it can cut your career way short than expected. Something must be done now.