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The “Shocking” Benefits of Shock Pads

By Andy Sisson, LA, Project Manager, Koontz-Bryant, P.C.

“Can we cut the shock pad?” All too often, as owners and designers work to get synthetic turf projects in line with budgets, the answer to this question is yes. The current breed of infilled synthetic turf systems are designed to provide a safe playing surface with only the resilient infill providing cushioning. The addition of a shock pad under the synthetic turf has benefits which make it desirable, but it is still easy to categorize it as unnecessary and therefore expendable. As a result, many, if not most, fields are constructed without a shock pad. However, a growing body of research, increasing awareness of the dangers of concussions, and improvements to products suggest that - while it is still not absolutely necessary to have a shock pad - the benefits of having one justifies finding a way to keep the shock pad in the budget.

The most obvious reason for including a shock pad under a synthetic turf field is safety. A shock pad supplements the cushioning provided by the resilient infill. Increased awareness of the dangers of concussions led the Synthetic Turf Council to revise their guidelines last year regarding the level of cushioning on fields. The Council lowered the maximum G-max from 200 to 165 (lower G-max values indicate a less-severe impact and lessen the likelihood of a traumatic brain injury). The addition of a shock pad is one of the best means of addressing this new guideline without sacrificing the performance of the field. As more research is done on infilled synthetic turf fields nearing the end of their life cycles, the importance of supplemental cushioning has become more apparent. Research has shown that fields get harder and cushioning becomes less consistent throughout the field as fields age. Migration, loss, and compaction of infill material combined with inconsistent maintenance and wear to the turf fibers lead to fields that are far less safe than they were when first constructed. The shock pad acts as an insurance policy to provide a minimum level of safety regardless of the condition of the infill on the field.

Balancing safety and performance is a continual challenge for manufacturers and designers of synthetic turf fields. A field that is too soft is safe but feels slow and can fatigue athletes playing on the field. A field that is too hard is fast but is not safe and can provide too much bounce. The goal for synthetic turf has always been to get as close to well-maintained natural grass as possible. The balance of resilient and non-resilient infill plays an important role in the feel of a synthetic turf system. Adding cushioning by adding more resilient infill upsets this balance and results in softer, slower fields. While shock pads are made of various materials, most have one thing in common. They are able to absorb impact with minimal deformation of the surface which means added cushioning without the softer, slower feel. In addition, by alleviating some of the infill’s responsibility for cushioning, shock pads allow for more flexibility in the design of fields for multiple sports with differing performance priorities. The combination of turf height and infill mix can be modified with more freedom knowing that the shock pad is addressing the cushioning of the field.

While safety and performance are both important issues, they are still subject to the costs of installing and maintaining a synthetic turf field. Shock pads do represent an additional expense during initial project construction. Analyzing where the use of a shock pad might provide savings elsewhere during design and looking at the full life cycle cost of the synthetic turf field can help mitigate this expense. Shock pads continue to evolve, providing benefits in addition to cushioning. Many shock pads are designed to help direct water away from the surface and toward collector drains, eliminating the need for elaborate drainage networks under fields. Brock International makes a shock pad that has a structural and drainage component that allows for significant savings in base materials and preparation. Looking beyond initial construction costs, the additional cushioning and reduced wear on the backing of the synthetic turf carpet provided by a shock pad will extend the life of the synthetic turf. The lifespan for a shock pad is roughly two times that of the synthetic turf. When it is time to replace the synthetic turf, new carpet can be laid on top of the existing shock pad without disturbing the base for the field. Incorporated into a project at the early stages of design and viewed in terms of the long term costs of a synthetic turf field, the cost of including a shock pad begins to look like a smart investment. Is a shock pad necessary? No, but when it becomes an integral part of the design and the safety, performance, and long term cost benefits are considered, it becomes harder to eliminate the shock pad to meet the budget. For more information on shock pads and synthetic turf fields please contact Andy Sisson, LA, at Koontz-Bryant by email or by phone 804-200-1935.