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CON: Natural grass is biologically healthier

By Sonny Long
July 15, 2013 at 2:15 a.m.

Don Breech

Natural grass is a safer playing surface for athletes compared to artificial turf, said Dr. Don Breech, a Victoria orthopedic surgeon.

"I've been around long enough to have seen Victoria teams play on both grass and the infill type of turf we have on our field now," Breech said.

"Knee injuries have been more common and more severe on the artificial turf than on grass."

Studies on the topic have been mixed.

"The effect of synthetic surfaces on injury rates has not been clearly established," according to "The Effect of Playing Surface on Injury Rate," by Dr. Jason Dragoo and Hillary Braun of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Stanford University,.

"Confounding variables such as climate, player position and footwear ... also make it difficult to draw firm conclusions about the general effect of artificial playing surfaces on injury rates."

The study also indicates that the first two generations of artificial turf are indeed less safe than natural grass.

"... The overall injury rate appears to be higher on first-generation artificial turf compared with grass ..." and "Overall, the majority of second-generation artificial turf studies suggest higher rates of lower extremity injuries on artificial playing surfaces," according to the overview in the Dragoo/Braun report.

A study of collegiate football injuries, also by Dragoo, Braun and others, found that, "between 2004 and 2009, NCAA football players experienced a greater number of ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries ... when playing on artificial turf surfaces."

Dr. David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston, S.C., said there are as many differing opinions as there are studies on the safety of natural grass versus artificial turf.

"The trend at the high school and college level is away from natural grass to FieldTurf," said Geier, who also is the public relations chairman for the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.

"There are conflicting studies. I think it's hard to ignore the data, but there are so many variables like maintenance, weather, type of shoes.

"If a natural grass field can be maintained properly and the surface kept consistent and free of problems, I prefer natural grass."

Breech said injuries aren't the only things to consider when considering natural grass or artificial turf.

"Staph infections have been worse on the artificial turf. The artificial surface accumulates organic material and does not break these down like a natural grass field would," said Breech.

"Therefore, the artificial surface has to be cleaned and disinfected periodically or staph can gain a serious foothold on the field.

"These surfaces are much, much hotter also. In Texas, this is a real problem and can increase heat-related injuries many times," said the Victoria doctor.

PRO: Artificial turf doesn't mean more impact injuries

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