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April 15th 2019

Study Concludes: Shock Pads Are Not the Answer to Field Safety

While deductive reasoning may tell us that shock pads make fields safer, new research points to a very different conclusion.

When discussing artificial turf, there is perhaps no area more clouded than shock pads and their impact on safety. The study is at serious odds with conventional wisdom, which would likely state that fields with pads are always better than those with no pads. What seems obvious to so many people does, in fact, not hold up to scrutiny. As independent researcher, Michael C. Meyers, professor at Idaho State University’s Department of Sport Science and Physical Education, points out in a recent study, artificial turf fields are not safer with an underlayment (shock pad).

In his latest seven-year study, published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, “Surface-Related High School Football Game Injuries on Pad and No-Pad Fields” - VIEW, Dr. Meyers examines the injury rate in games played on turf fields with pads and on turf fields without pads, and what he found was that there were significantly more injuries when there was a pad installed.

An incidence of 65% more injuries on fields with shock pads to be precise.

The study reports on a variety of injuries and playing scenarios, showcased in a multitude of injury categories. Of note, fields without pads led to:

• 53% less player-to-turf collision injuries
• 39% less shoulder girdle trauma
• 63% less lower leg injuries
• 73% less neck trauma

Knee tendon injuries, rotator cuff tears, ligament sprain, inflammation, muscle spasms and dislocations: all of these injuries also occurred more commonly on turf with pads than without.

While some pad manufacturers stake claim that shock pads “can help lessen the frequency of concussions” the research shows no difference in concussion injury incidence rate (IIR) that were a result of head to turf impacts (Pad 0.2 – 0.6 IIR, No Pad 0.1 – 0.3 IIR).

Why don’t shock pads reduce concussions?

This study supports previous research by Biokinetics and Associates Ltd. which concluded that “when a football helmet was worn, the turf had very little influence on the impact severity. This confirms that the helmet is responsible for the vast majority of the impact ride-down, not the turf. The focus should be placed on investing in quality helmets.

In summary, when we consider that violent rotational motion is necessary for a concussion, and that a head-to-ground strike has rotational energy that is present before impact, and fact that most of the head’s ride-down (or deceleration) comes from the helmet padding, it leads to the conclusion that the turf has remarkably little influence on concussion in football.”

If a shock pad won’t make a field safer, what will?

Ongoing safety research continues to confirm the importance of heavy infill weight as it relates to player injuries. As the artificial infill surface weight decreased, the incidence of game-related high school football trauma significantly increased across numerous playing conditions.

Systems with >9 lbs. per square foot have shown leading results in player safety. Compared to all other infill weight surfaces they led to:

• 19%-29% lower incidence of total injuries
• 32%-47% lower incidence of player-to-turf injuries
• 17%-22% lower incidence of Ligament Sprains and Tears
• 58%-63% lower incidence of injuries on surfaces aged 8+ years, vs systems with 0-5.9 lbs per square foot

When are shock pads recommended?

The conclusion of Meyers’ recent study adds some clarity to the “underlayment” discussion showing that adding a pad won’t make your field safer and that investing in a shock pad may not always be the optimal solution for your field if added safety is your goal.

However, there are some situations where a shock pad is recommended. When installing light-weight infill systems, common with alternative / natural infills like cork, coconut and/or olive, there isn’t enough material in the system to provide the necessary shock absorption. To meet the needed industry safety requirements, a shock pad is added under the system to provide the adequate performance.

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