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Playing surface, cleat choice, and injuries: How can you limit your risk?

Recently the Board asked me for some input on playing surface and risk for injuries as this past indoor season there seemed to be a spike in reported injuries while playing. This blog will discuss the different playing surfaces and their inherent risks, how your footwear choice can mitigate that risk, and some general tips for transitioning from the different surfaces.

Firstly, the playing surface. MZU runs leagues on a variety of grass fields of differing quality, as well as outdoor and indoor turf fields, and some of you may also play indoor on a multipurpose floor as well. All playing surfaces have their respective rate of injury, typically they are compared to grass as that is the most accessible and has been used the longest. One of the perceived risks with artificial turf is a higher prevalence of knee injuries, and while that was true with the 1st and 2nd generation turfs primarily installed in the 1960-1990s, more recent turf installations have negated that risk. While the knee injury prevalence has decreased, there remains a risk any time you change surfaces. This is seen from the transition from indoor winter league to outdoor summer, summer to the outdoor fall league, and then back into the winter league playing surface. Each surface has it’s own distinct stressors that it puts on your body, and if you go from playing 2-3 hours per week on one surface and then switch to another, those stresses can cause overload or overuse injuries.

Secondly, your shoes. For the many recreational players in MZU, your cleat choice may have been directed on price point, look of the shoe, or how comfortable they were. There are a variety of cleat choices that offer benefits depending on the sport, the playing surface, even what position you play, so it can be daunting for a rec player to make an informed choice. The reality is that while certain cleats offer advantages in certain situations, for most players those small advantages are negligible, and so perhaps the most beneficial decision is to make one based on injury reduction. The only type of cleat you want to be cautious about wearing on multiple surfaces is a “bladed” cleat. Most cleat tips are circular or conical in design, where bladed cleats are longer and designed to give enough grip to turn and generate force on a hard dry field. This same design on a softer wet field, or artificial turf has been shown to increase rates of knee injuries as the blades sink into the surface and stick. Wearing turf or general cleats on all MZU surfaces are safe bets from an injury prevention approach.

Finally, as you start gearing up for the glorious summer league, there are a few tips that you and your team can take to try to minimize the risk of injuries. Building capacity in your tissue before taking on an increased load or intensity such as in games. Convince your team to run a few practices, or get out and go for a toss, or play some mini games. This concept also applies if you are changing your cleats, either from turf shoes to grass cleats, or maybe you just got a new pair. To limit injury wear them for the first 25% of practice, or your toss around, and then increase that percentage over a couple weeks. One of the big gaps I see with many teams is the warm-up is lacking. Having a good warm up that increases your heart rate, increases blood flow to the extremities and gets muscles ready to work will improve performance and most importantly decrease injury rates in the game!

So to bring us back full circle, any time you transition playing surfaces you have a higher risk of injury, however none of the surfaces you play on in MZU have an inherent increase in risk. Your cleat choice can play a part, but mostly bladed cleats on wet grass or turf. Having a proper transition with surface or footwear change can help mitigate risk as can getting in a 5-10 minute warm up before the game. Hopefully this information helps you have a full year of fun with MZU regardless of the playing surface!

Matthew Moore is a Certified Athletic Therapist and co-owns Premier Athletic Therapy & Sports Medicine. He is an avid MZU player and is currently an Assistant Athletic Therapist with the Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club that competes in Major League Soccer.