Turf Burns

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Turf burn injuries are unfortunately common among athletes who play sports like football or soccer that are frequently played on artificial turf and in which falls are common. They are caused by friction between the athlete’s naked skin and the synthetic turf as he or she slides on it after a fall or “dive”.

The friction and resulting heat can remove layers of skin and cause a great deal of pain to the athlete. In addition, the injured skin normally has an unsightly (sometimes raspberry coloured) appearance.

However, the greatest threat from a turf burn injury arises from infection. Even though an infection may initially be localized, it can in the absence of proper treatment become much more generalized and possibly even life threatening.

As a result, it is important when treating a turf burn to keep the infection risk to a minimum. If signs of infection do appear, it is important to recognize them and take the appropriate steps in a timely manner.

Below, we will describe the symptoms of turf burn injuries and provide hints to indicate when an infection may be present.

We will then lay out suggested steps for treating a turf burn, paying particular attention to what should be done to prevent infection.

Finally, we will suggest some steps that an athlete can take to minimize the risk of getting a turf burn injury in the first place.

Epidemiology Of Turf Burn Injuries

The incidence of turf burns has grown in recent years in line with the increasing use of synthetic fields for soccer and football games.

A Dutch study of professional football players has reported that 84% of players experienced at least one such injury during a particular season. Goalkeepers were reported to be at particular risk of incurring these injuries, due to the large amount of diving and falling they are required to do.

More worryingly, a report by Begier, Frenette, Barrett et al  has reported a connection between (i) high morbidity outbreaks  of antibiotic resistant staph infections among athletic teams and (ii) both the increased incidence of turf burns and the greater popularity of cosmetic body shaving.

With these statistics, it is clear that the proper treatment of turf burns should be a high priority among athletic trainers responsible for protecting the health of athletes in their care.

Symptoms Of Turf Burns

The most noticeable symptom of a turf burn is the intense pain it causes over the injured area. Skin damage, in the form of a raspberry coloured patch, is usually also present, together with bleeding from the injured area.

However, as painful as the injury itself may be, the real danger comes from the potential it introduces for infections. The additional symptoms produced by a turf burn that is becoming infected include skin redness, swelling, blisters and pus oozing from the damaged skin.

The development of a fever is another possible sign of complications due to infection.

Should the athlete notice some or all of these signs of possible infection after experiencing a turf burn injury, he or she should seek medical help immediately.

Treating A Turf Burn

Although the initial treatment of a turf burn injury (with no signs of infection) does not require a high level of medical training, timely treatment is vital.

It is also important that whoever is treating the injury avoids touching an open wound with his or her naked hands, as this could increase the infection risk.

Most of the items required for initial treatment of a turf burn injury can be found in a first aid kit such as the BriefCase.

Suggested steps for treatment are:

  • Wash hands thoroughly before beginning, and wear sterile gloves if at all possible;
  • Staunch any ongoing bleeding with a clean bandage or dressing;
  • Clean the wound using a saline solution, or water and soap. Be especially careful to remove any sand or dirt from the wound;
  • Pat the wound dry using a clean cloth and then apply an antibiotic cream such as Polysporin;
  • Cover the wound with a non adherent dressing such as Telfa Non Adherent;
  • Secure the non adherent dressing in place using a breathable cotton bandage.

Unless an infection develops, the healing time for a turf burn injury should be a few weeks.

Can Turf Burn Injuries Be Prevented?

Although it is difficult to prevent these injuries entirely, you can reduce the risk of experiencing them if you:

  • Wear protective gear such as knee and elbow pads to prevent direct contact between the ground and the naked skin over your elbows and knees;
  • Wear long sleeved shirts, high socks and full length pants whenever possible during play;
  • If short trousers are a must, consider wearing shin pads to protect that area of the body.

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