Understanding Artificial Turfs and Concussions

Playing surfaces of all compositions and descriptions have the potential to cause minor to severe head injuries whenever athletes come into contact with them. Artificial surfaces, however, are subject to the most intense evaluations because these surfaces are designed and installed with manufactured products and processed constituents. These surfaces, therefore, currently fall under more legislative scrutiny than any natural surface.

Concussions are an important concern for athletes in a variety of sports. A recent and ongoing debate in the United States has put a spotlight on the need to come up with a strategy to address the safety of athletes in football and other sports. However, the response to this issue is very slow and the lack of focus on surfaces is unfathomable.

Meanwhile, other sports have already taken this issue seriously, including Rugby and the Gaelic Games. Some notable absentees from this list include the beautiful game (football/soccer) and field hockey.

The mechanisms for concussions are now very well understood, so there is no need for a detailed medical account here. Check out the Concussion Foundation and Headway for further information.

Suffice to say that if research shows 1 in 5 concussions are attributable to the surface, then something must be done about it. If it is within our power to mitigate risk, why would we ignore these simple steps?

What is the issue?
The type of concussions receiving the most attention right now are not the dramatic impacts which result in a loss of consciousness, but rather the small knocks and bumps to an athlete's head which cause only minor symptoms, not severe losses of function.

Small knocks and bumps to the skull can cause micro-traumas to build up in the brain. It is thought that repeated incidents of seemingly minor injuries can expose a player to long-term damage.

Our interest, therefore, is long-term and 100% focused on reducing the risk of concussions across the board by making surfaces more shock absorptive and better able to reduce the harsh consequences of head impacts.

There are two approaches which could offer an immediate beneficial effect.

1. Introduce a shock pad into the design of all new fields
2. Insist that new fields are constructed to meet a pre-determined value for Head Injury Criterion (see HIC).

Sports such as Rugby look to regulate the shock absorption on fields via fall heights. In the case of Rugby, the field would be rated for a fall height of 1.3m at a HIC value of 1000. This inbuilt protection is not a be-all and end-all to reducing concussions, but measures like these can reduce risks and mitigate the incidences of micro-traumas.

How do we reduce the risk?
We advocate that every field is designed and assessed for HIC whether it was originally built to provide shock absorption protection or not. Being informed allows choices to be made about which sports are played on a what surfaces.

Eric O'Donnell
Managing Director, Sports Labs Ltd.