How to Treat Turf Burn

There is some controversy over which is the safer playing surface when comparing manufactured field turf to natural grass fields for sports. A study published in 2010 in the American Journal of Sports Medicine comparing artificial turf to natural grass on sports fields found fewer injuries on artificial field turf. A separate study published in the same journal found similar rates of injury on natural grass and artificial turf. Some players swear by artificial turf and consider it much safer, while others prefer playing on natural grass.

What we do know is that properly installed artificial turf provides a level, even playing field for sports like football, soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey. Players on synthetic grass are not exposed to the chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used to keep natural grass healthy, and field owners enjoy lower maintenance costs, since fake grass requires no mowing, edging, or irrigation.

Additionally, a rainy day on a natural grass field may cause games to be canceled for several days while the field dries out; whereas, games can still take place on manufactured turf, since water drains through the backing and there is no mud.

These are just some of the benefits of playing sports on synthetic field turf, but folks who play sports on fake grass may have experienced one of the downsides: turf burn.

What is Turf Burn?

One downside of playing sports on artificial turf is the possibility of turf burn. This can occur when a player dives, slides, or falls in a way that causes friction between their skin and the turf. This can result in an abrasion somewhat like road rash that is red, stinging, and painful. This is the type of injury that most often does not take players out of the game, so it is common for players to continue playing without tending to this open wound.

While turf burn is a common injury that is generally considered more annoying than serious, lack of proper wound care could lead to complications, such as infections. You can reduce the risk of infection and possibly reduce scarring by treating turf burn properly.

Turf Burn

How to Treat Turf Burn

Some turf burn injuries can cause bleeding, so the first step in treatment is stopping the bleeding. Use a clean towel or gauze to cover the wound, and apply gentle pressure until the bleeding subsides.

To treat turf burn that is not bleeding or is no longer bleeding, the first step is washing your hands to avoid introducing bacteria into the wound. Next, use water or saline solution to clean the wound. It is important to remove all dirt and debris. Because turf burn can be painful, it may take some time to gently rinse it until it is completely clean. Once you have thoroughly cleaned the wound, pat the area dry with a clean towel or cloth.

Apply aloe vera, hydrogel, or a topical antibiotic ointment to the wound and cover with a clean, dry dressing, such as gauze or, preferably, a non-stick wound dressing. Cover this with a bandage to hold it in place. It is important to add some type of ointment or aloe to help keep the wound moist, reduce the risk of infection, and help with scarring.

While the wound is healing, apply ointment and change the dressing and bandage every day. If possible, it is best to avoid sports and rigorous activities until the wound is healed. If this is not possible, apply a clean dressing and keep the wound covered during activities.

If the wound will not stop bleeding, shows signs of infection, or does not seem to be healing as expected, make an appointment with your doctor.

Tips for Preventing Turf Burn

Turf burn most often occurs on legs, knees, elbows, arms, and palms of the hand. It can also occur on the chin or chest. It just depends on what part of your body comes in contact with the ground when you dive, slide, or fall. Protective coverings are the best way to prevent turf burn before it happens or to at least reduce the severity of the wound.

To prevent turf burn on hands, you can wear protective gloves. For prevention on arms and legs, wear long sleeves and long pants. If that is not possible due to uniform regulations or for other reasons, you might consider investing in knee and elbow pads, knee-high socks to protect lower legs, or one of the breathable, adhesive contact padding or second-skin coverings that are becoming more widely available.