Football is now more than half way through the season, and we’ve seen our share of sprains, fractures, and concussions. Many of these injuries have been discussed at length, so we thought we would talk about a growing concern; injuries occurring from or made worse as a result of the synthetic turf our kids are playing on today.
Synthetic Turf Concerns
At the professional level, there is concern that the difference in buoyancy and other attributes of synthetic infilled turf may contribute to increased risk of ligament injuries and overall musculoskeletal wear, resulting in prolonged fatigue and recovery between games. While studies continue to assess these concerns without conclusion, debates grow in women’s soccer and are capturing the attention of parents of young athletes playing on artificial turf across the United States [1,2].
There have also been a number of studies assessing increased risk of infection in football associated with playing on synthetic turf. While studies are ongoing, there are currently no scientific findings to conclude that synthetic turf results in a higher number of infections than natural turf. The abrasive nature of this artificial turf, though, has certainly resulted in an increased number of severe abrasions and lacerations of the skin, leaving players more vulnerable to infection.
The surface temperatures of synthetic turf are also significantly higher than that of natural grass turf when exposed to sunlight (Buskirk et al., 1971; Koon et al., 1971; and Kandelin et al. 1976, Devitt et al., 2007, McNitt et al., 2007). This may contribute to increased bacteria growth.
Turf concerns have been noted as early as 2003 when Connecticut’s Department of Public Health launched an investigation into infections in a Connecticut college football team . Of the 100 players studied, those with turf burns had an infection risk seven times higher than their scraped teammates. Cornerbacks and wide receivers, who frequently come into contact with other players, accounted for most cases. Improperly treated whirlpools could also have helped spread the bacteria.
When these bacteria become resistant to antibiotics they can spread and cause pneumonia, bone infections, or life-threatening infections of the bloodstream that are difficult to treat.
Reducing Risk for Turf Related Skin Infections
Each football season, we see a growing number of skin infections related to synthetic turf burns, abrasions and lacerations. While many of these infections can be treated with antibiotics, those more resistant require special attention. Parents and coaches are encouraged to educate their athletes on preventive practices to avoid the dangers of a serious skin infection.
Signs of a Turf-Related Skin Infection
Two of the most common skin infections associated with turf, both natural and synthetic, are Staph (staphylococcus bacteria) and MRSA (resistant staph).
Staph is one of the most common forms of infections that can develop from a turf wound. This type of skin infection, also referred to as cellulitis, may or may not result from an open sore/wound.
Possible Symptoms of a Skin Staph Infection include:
- An area of tenderness, swelling, and redness
- Inflammation — redness, warmth, swelling, and pain
- Fever and sweats, as well as swelling in the area (if the infection has spread)
MRSA is a more serious type of staph infection resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat staph and other common infections. These types of infections require special antibiotic therapy.
Possible Symptoms of a MRSA Infection include:
- General feeling of poor health (malaise)
- Skin rash
- Muscle aches
- Chills / Fever
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
Treatment of Staph and MRSA Infections
Treatment for Staph infection generally entails a course of antibiotics. Treatment for MRSA requires a special class of antibiotics or a combination of multiple antibiotics – depending on the patient’s response and the severity of the infection.
Reducing Risks of Skin Infections
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has outlined the five primary conditions for contracting and spreading MRSA and Staph infection. Referred to as the Five “C’s”:
- Contact – frequent skin to skin
- Compromised Skin (cuts, scrapes, abrasions)
- Contaminated Items (sweaty towels, clothes, mats, synthetic turf)
For the prevention of skin infections, it is important that athletes:
- Keep wounds covered and contained
- Shower immediately after participation
- Shower before using whirlpools
- Wash and dry uniforms after each use
- Report possible infections to coach, athletic trainer, school nurse, other healthcare providers, or parents
Other CDC recommendations addressing MRSA and Staph infection in sports can be found on their website: http://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/community/team-hc-providers/index.html .
1.) Meyers MC, Barnhill BS. Incidence, causes and severity of high school football injuries on FieldTurf versus natural grass: a 5-year prospective study. Am J Sports Med. 2004 Oct-Nov;32(7):1626-38.
3.) Begier et al. 2004. A High-Morbidity Outbreak of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus among Players on a College Football Team, Facilitated by Cosmetic Body Shaving and Turf Burns. Clin Inf Dis. 2004;39:1446-53.
(Keywords: synthetic turf, artificial turf injuries, lacerations, Staph infection, MRSA, sports injuries, skin infections)