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Injury Prevention in Team Sports: The Impact of Surface Characteristics

Playing surfaces in sports such as Rugby, Football, and American Football vary widely, from natural grass to artificial turf, each influencing injury risks differently and presenting unique maintenance challenges. Recent research highlights the critical role of surface hardness and condition in biomechanical adaptations and injury prevention strategies.


American Football manoeuvres Importance of Sport Technology for Injury Prevention

In sports like Football, Rugby, and American Football, the playing surface conditions can vary significantly and the surface type can range from natural grass to various types of artificial grass and hybrid surfaces. Each surface type presents unique challenges to maintain and keep consistent, but can they influence injury risk differently based on its current state? For instance, natural grass, traditionally the most common surface for many outdoor sports, is perceived to offer better shock absorption compared to older or lower-quality artificial grass. However, the actual risk can vary based on the condition and maintenance of the grass. In a previous blog, we provide some insights into surface hardness on football injuries. One conclusion was that the link between surface conditions and player health is a complex topic that is still not fully understood. A recent article sheds some light on the impact of hardness on an athlete's movement strategy.


Key insights from recent research.

The study by Jones and colleagues (Jones et al., 2023) examined how surface hardness impacts biomechanical variables in movements tied to ACL injuries, such as landing from a jump or performing cutting manoeuvres. This study, which compared movement responses on a harder Mondotrack (an athletic track surface) and a softer artificial surface, highlighted several key findings that are also relevant to sports played on natural grass:


  1. Biomechanical adjustments: Athletes adjust their movements based on the hardness of the surface. Depending on the surface and type of movement, athletes exhibited different peak forces and moments. Greater peak forces and moments are generally linked to higher ACL injury risks. Such movement adaptations can also occur on natural grass, especially when the ground is harder due to weather conditions or poor maintenance.

  2. Surface hardness and injury misrepresentation: The research showed that performing biomechanical analyses for ACL injury risk on surfaces that are harder or softer than the athlete's usual playing surface can lead to inaccurate assessments of injury risk. For grass surfaces, this means that the natural variability - such as moisture content, grass length, and soil compaction - must be carefully managed to ensure consistent conditions that do not elevate potential injury risk.

  3. Practical applications for injury prevention: The findings stress the importance of surface-specific assessments for injury risk. For team sports on natural grass or artificial turf, it is crucial to perform biomechanical assessments in conditions that closely mimic those found in typical game settings. Additionally, testing and maintaining natural grass surfaces to ensure they provide consistent, safe playing conditions is vital.


Strategies for managing natural grass surfaces.

Maintaining natural grass surfaces to minimise injury risks involves several strategies:

  • Regular maintenance: Meticulous mowing, watering, and fertilisation help maintain the structural integrity of natural grass surfaces and ensure that they provide sufficient cushioning.

  • Monitoring hardness: Using software and tools to measure hardness and other surface characteristics, such as Raw Stadia's technology allows performance and ground staff to assess the state of a natural grass surface and take remedial actions if it becomes too hard, reducing shock absorption capacity.

  • Evenness and consistency: Regular checks for holes, divots, and uneven areas are essential. Uneven playing surfaces increase the risk of trips, falls, and awkward landings that can lead to injuries. Consistency, however, is not so easily picked up with the naked eye. After objectively testing the surface, data analysis provides the necessary level of detail to facilitate precision surface management and achieve optimal consistency and safety.


Tailoring training and preparation

Teams that play on natural grass can also tailor their training to better prepare for the variable conditions they might face:

  • Surface-specific training: Practising on the same state of surface that athletes will compete on may help to acclimate them to the biomechanical demands of that matchday surface.

  • Footwear considerations: Choosing the right footwear based on surface conditions can greatly affect traction, joint loading, and overall risk of slipping and injury. We dived into more detail on rotational traction in a previous blog.

  • Adaptive training programs: Incorporating flexibility in training programs to adapt to changing surface conditions may help athletes maintain performance and reduce injury risks throughout the season.


Conclusion

The interplay between surface characteristics and injury risk in sports is complex and multifaceted. For team sports on any type of grass, understanding and mitigating the impact of surface variability is crucial. By integrating the latest research insights into practical strategies for surface maintenance and athlete preparation, player safety and performance can be enhanced. Through field monitoring, proactive management and strategic planning, we can ensure that athletes are prepared to perform at their best while minimising injury risks associated with playing surface characteristics.


For more information on optimising playing surfaces, visit Raw Stadia and explore their measurement technology and platform designed to enhance player safety and performance.



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