Strategies used by professional rugby union clubs to manage players for artificial turf exposure
Background: The use of artificial turf on rugby pitches is increasingly commonplace but there is limited evidence around its effects on injury, recovery, and performance. It is unclear whether this uncertainty influences player management strategies in professional clubs.
Objectives: To understand how professional rugby union clubs in England approach player management for artificial turf, to explore how the beliefs of medical and strength/conditioning staff influence these decisions, and to determine whether differences exist between clubs with different levels of exposure to artificial surfaces.
Methods: The study was a cross-sectional mixed methods study. Twenty-three medical and strength/conditioning staff members from 12 English Premiership Rugby Union clubs completed two bespoke questionnaires and participated in a semi-structured interview.
Results: Two-thirds of the participants described formal club-level approaches to artificial turf. All participants from low- exposure clubs (<50% training and match time on artificial pitches) reported adjusting player recovery strategies following games on artificial turf to mitigate elevated muscle soreness and fatigue. Clubs with artificial surfaces at their home venues were less likely to adapt recovery than clubs with natural turf pitches. Regardless of exposure participants believed switching between surface types was a risk factor for injury. Medics reported that acute injuries associated with artificial turf exposure typically occurred at the foot or ankle, whereas abrasions and overuse injuries were more common and often affected the knees, hips and lower back. Players with compromised joints were less likely to be selected for matches on artificial surfaces.
Conclusion: Player management around artificial turf is a focus for staff at professional rugby union clubs. Club practices vary by exposure and may consequently influence injury risk estimates.
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