If you’re a sports fan, fall is a busy time of year. Whether you play a sport (or two, or three), cheer for the home team, or tune in to ESPN for all the big games — there is a ton going on in the world of athletics right now. Baseball winds down while many other sports, like football and basketball, are just gearing up.

We often treat foot and ankle injuries of athletes active in these sports. Their treatment is usually a result of injuries they’ve incurred on the field and court or after years of overuse. Meaning, it’s not always easy to predict the type of injury an athlete might get. One basketball player may tear her ACL, putting a tragic early end to her career. While another may play for years with only a few sprains and bruises to her name.

But what about those factors which could help athletes and their trainers predict the type of injury they may face? Well, this could be the case when it comes to the type of surface an athlete plays on AND hearkens back to the age-old debate: Artificial Turf or Natural Grass? We believe knowing the differences between these two types of play, and the risk factors which accompany them, are crucial information for any athlete.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, previous research showed that as friction increases so do the rate of injuries to legs, ankles, and feet. Meaning, the more traction the court or field offers, the greater the risk of injury. Because artificial turf is believed to have more traction than natural grass we expect more injuries on turf. And there are plenty of studies to back this up. In fact, a 2013 study by the Journal of Sports Medicine found that artificial turf is three times more likely to cause foot and ankle injuries. Knowing this, it’s important for athletes to consider precautions for decreasing their traction — like cleats designed specifically for turf.

However, a five-year study by the Department of Health and Human Development at Montana State University believes turf is, in fact, the safer bet.

Attributing serious sports injuries to artificial turf is a thing of the past, says Dr. Michael C. Myers of Montana State University. His study showed that new types of turf, like FieldTurf, are more akin to natural grass. He compared college football injuries between actual grass and this new turf and found FieldTurf to be safer.

The difference is newer generations of artificial turf which have been painstakingly created to mirror the consistency and traction of actual grass. This is the type that is used by the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and many international football pitches. But it’s not always what you’ll find at the Little League field or even a D1 football program at a major University.

Whether you’re playing on artificial turf, natural grass, or turf that feels almost identical to grass, there are a few precautions you can take to keep your feet and ankles safe:

1. Choose your shoes based on quality and how they’ll interact with your preferred playing surface.

2. If your athletics department offers an injury reduction program, consider enrolling.

3. Practice “quick feet” drills to increase agility and precision. These drills train athletes to have more control of their feet and ankles when out on the field.

4. Always warm up and cool down.

5. Have foot check-ups! Visit a foot and ankle specialist for customized injury prevention before you hit the turf and for post-season follow-ups.

Sports injuries might be difficult to predict but staying proactive about performance criteria you can control will help you stay active for years to come.

If you or a loved one is experiencing foot or ankle pain, sports related or not, please give Rocky Mountain Foot and Ankle a call. Our foot and ankle care doctors are board-certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery and are members of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. Call (208) 855-5955 or request an appointment online.