We all know that injuries suck, but the undefeated King of Pain in soccer is the turf burn. Join us for the second installment of our candid two-part series examining the most common but troubling problems facing the next generation soccer player.
In Part 2: We deep dive into understanding turf burns and the recommended methods of prevention, protection and treatment.
Turf Burn Facts
1. Raspberry is the new black. Field injuries are more common than you might think. Skin abrasions bleed, hurt, and can get dangerously infected. Because most players play through these injuries, they often go unreported. But with the explosive global growth of soccer world combined with generally poor field conditions and an increasing number of synthetic surface fields, skin injuries seem to be increasing in number and severity. A Dutch study reported that 84% of professional soccer players sustained at least one major turf burn during the season with goalkeepers at highest risk. Several outbreaks of antibiotic resistant staph infections in athletic teams have been directly linked to frequent turf burns.
2. The first cut is the deepest. Turf burns are not really thermal injuries. The combination of violent mechanical shearing of the skin and frictional abrasive damage can lead to large areas of superficial skin injury that are extremely painful and take weeks to heal. A really cool new study examined severe turf burns and found that they were more similar to skin grafts and bikers’ road rash than to a heat or chemical burn. The same study found that less abrasive damage was seen during soccer slide tackles on wet natural grass than on dry grass or synthetic turf.
3. The grass is always greener. There is little doubt that most soccer players perceive that artificial turf is more threatening than natural grass. No shocker there. A group of international female soccer players felt so strongly that they filed suit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association prior to the 2015 World World Cup to halt the use of synthetic turf during the tournament (the suit was later dropped). But current research on newer 3rd and 4th generation (Field Turf, etc) surfaces has not confirmed this belief. However, the conflicting data showing otherwise comparable injury rates between natural and synthetic turf fields still confirms that skin abrasion rates are higher on artificial grass surfaces. Despite lingering health concerns, the high cost of maintaining high-grade natural grass fields has driven many communities around the country to convert to artificial surfaces. There are now over 14,000 synthetic sports fields in play in the US alone with a 10% increase per year.
4. You’ll never walk alone. We all know that soccer fields are not the most sterile places. Far from it. All types of playing fields harbor an abundance of bacteria and other nasty contaminants to keep us company. The bigger problem with skin abrasions is that they provide sudden exposure of subcutaneous blood vessels to millions of opportunistic bacteria that live on the field, on your own skin and, your opponent’s skin. In one study, 42% of players harbored staph bacteria. Yikes. Worse yet, antibiotic resistant bacteria can live for weeks on both natural and synthetic fields as well as happily colonizing your sweaty old gear. Because up to 10% of these abrasions will become infected if untreated, players need to become more proactive in treating. The old adage of “leave it alone and let the air get at it” only delays healing and leads to increased scarring and re-injury. Want a better approach? Aggressively scrub the area clean with a disinfectant (chlorehexidine=GOOD, hydrogen peroxide=BAD) and then keep it clean, moist, and covered using Tegaderm or hydrogel. This can trim healing time from 3 weeks down to as little as 7-10 days. Oh, yeah, and no sharing towels in the locker room or using a communal whirlpool. Ew.
5. Less is more. Soccer players need to start borrowing tactics from our road rash-plagued bike racing cousins and start covering ourselves with modern, breathable and et burned outnext generation contact padding have ignited growing interest in protecting our largest organ. Field maintenance, although expensive, also needs to become a priority. Both natural and artificial turf fields should be irrigated to control radiant temperatures and decrease abrasive risk.
This article first appeared in The Intrepido at Storelli.com
References for The Burn Cycle: Parts 1 & 2
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2. Safety Study of Artificial Turf Containing Crumb Rubber Infill Made From Recycled Tires: Measurements of Chemicals and Particulates in the Air, Bacteria in the Turf, and Skin Abrasions Caused by Contact with the Surface October 2010 California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery California EPA Study http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/publications/Documents/Tires%5C2010009.pdf
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