You should expect injuries if you play any sport for a long time, and it happens to everyone, even the best athletes in the world.
But don’t worry too much about it. Paintball is a relatively safe sport.
I’m an old-school paintballer, and I have seen some people play paintball for years without significant injuries. But I have also seen a few accidents that required a visit to the emergency room.
Of course, there are risks, but it’s improbable that you will die, and with proper protective equipment, the risk of injury is not higher than in other action-packed sports. You must know the appropriate safety measures before playing the sport.
And did you know? The National Injury Information Clearinghouse has decided that paintball is safe after considering all safety measures. When comparing the rate of injuries, paintball is as safe as basketball, running, cycling, and cricket (but before you play, I advise you to read the beginner to pro guide article series)
Paintball is much safer if you wear protective gear
The best safety procedure is for everyone to put their masks on before the barrel sock comes off the paintball marker.
The most important thing to remember when playing paintball is to wear the proper protective gear, especially a paintball mask. Without paintball goggles, the sport is hazardous and can cause severe injuries to the face, temples, and eyes and, worst cases, cause blindness for life. But when you follow all safety measures, most paintball injuries are not more severe or frequent than in other sports. Besides bruises from paintball shots, the most common injuries are ankle sprains from running or impact injuries from falling, slipping, sliding, or colliding with the ground, trees, or other obstacles.
Wearing a paintball mask is the most critical safety factor that significantly reduces the risk of injury. Avoid careless behavior, and never take off your paintball mask during a match. Also, put a paintball barrel sock on your gun when not playing a game to protect yourself and others from misfirings.
Paintball has become safer than before
When paintball started as a game in 1981, the players wore primitive safety equipment and paint markers meant for marking trees and cattle. As the sport grew and more companies started manufacturing paintball equipment, the protective gear became much better.
One example is the company JT USA, a motorcycle equipment manufacturer that entered the paintball market and quickly introduced improved paintball masks with ideas based on motorcycle helmet technology.
Another factor that made paintball safer was that the government started regulating products. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) established industry standards. It approved equipment with an ASTM-approved tag, which indicated that the ASTM had tested the product for velocity, fire rate, and adhering to sufficient safety measures. (read more about paintball history)
Paintball injuries research data
Let’s look at some research data about the occurrence of paintball injuries.
Is paintball safer than airsoft?
According to a report by HCUP (Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project) called “Emergency Department Visits for Injuries Caused by Air and Paintball Guns, 2008”, a total of 20338 people visited the emergency department in 2008 because of injuries from airsoft and paintball combined. Only 3% (614 patients) of the injuries were classified as caused by a paintball gun, whereas an airsoft gun or BB gun caused 97% (19724 patients) of the injuries.
From these data, we can conclude that fewer people visited the emergency department because of a paintball marker than an airsoft gun. Still, the data does not include how many people in the population engage in airsoft vs. paintball play, so I can not directly conclude the safety and danger between these two sports.
95.5% of paintball patients have minor injuries
According to an article from Injury Prevention, an estimated 11,998 persons visited the emergency department from 1997 to 2001. The data shows that:
- The average rate for paintball injury was 4.5 per 10,000 participants.
- Almost 60% of the injured were treated for paintball pellet wounds, mainly to the eye (which is why it is crucial to wear goggles!)
- Almost 40% of those over 18 years of age were treated for injuries from falling or overexertion.
- 95.5% of the injured patients were treated and released.
The critical takeaway is that you wear proper protective gear and put a barrel sock on the gun when not playing.
Be careful when handling HPA or CO2 tanks.
You must always be cautious when dealing with high-pressure air and compressed gas like CO2 tanks. I believe that many injuries come from inexperienced people handling air tanks, but it does not show in the data.
The most common paintball injuries are minor.
These are the most common minor paintball injuries:
- ankle injury
From years of playing paintball, I have observed injuries are mostly minor.
The most common paintball injury is paintball welts, in other words, bruises on the skin.
Other injuries are cuts, twisted ankles or ankle sprains, and pain from falling. I believe most people don’t find it necessary to go to the emergency department for paintball bruises as they mostly heal by themselves, and players visit a health center for a checkup for more severe cuts and pain.
Also, consider that most of the mentioned minor injuries are common in every sport. If you play any sport over a long period, you should expect injuries, as there is no way to prevent them. The best you can do is to decrease the risks.
Severe paintball injuries
These are more severe paintball injuries that can create complications:
- Eye injuries
- Internal injuries
- Ear injuries
- Head injuries
- Breathing difficulties
Let’s go through them one by one and examine the causes of injury and how to protect against them.
Eye injuries are the most common among paintball injuries, and it is estimated to account for most paintballers who end up in the emergency room. They often occur when the player gets shot in the eye by a high-velocity pellet. In the worst cases, this can lead to blindness.
The number one way to avoid eye injuries when paintballing is to wear a paintball mask when playing and never take it off during a game. Simply doing this, you can protect yourself from the most common injury in the sport. Also, ensure that the goggles you wear are ASTM-approved. Sometimes beginners wish to remove their masks during a game due to discomfort or fog, but you must never do that. Instead, try to find a mask that is comfortable and anti-fog. Two ways to avoid condensation are to keep it clean and apply a defogger before the game.
According to nzherald.co.nz, a boy who entered the emergency room with internal liver injuries claimed he was hit several times at the same spot with paintballs. The physicians diagnosed him with extreme liver bleeding. It is rare, but it demonstrated that severe injuries could happen.
Other examples of internal injuries are internal bleeding or other organs.
You can lower the risk of internal injuries by wearing a protective vest that covers the torso, the area most vulnerable to internal injuries.
When players are hit on the ear, ear injuries happen. The damage can be severe, such as tinnitus, ruptured eardrum, permanent or partial hearing loss, or even concussion.
The best way to protect yourself from ear injuries in paintball is to wear a protective paintball mask covering the temples and ears or a full-head paintball helmet. You may have to change to a bigger mask or helmet if you have large ears or a large head.
Head injuries can be very severe and lead to death in the worst cases.
In 2001, 39-year-old Kenneth Costin lost his life a few days after being shot in the head by a paintball. The cause of death was a stroke, and it is unknown whether or not the head injury caused the stroke.
Other head injuries can be a wounded scalp, bruises, or concussions.
You can protect yourself against head injuries by wearing a full-head coverage paintball helmet.
Physicians have reported that the most common reason for breathing problems after paintballing is getting shot in the throat. You may also have difficulty breathing after hits to the back, stomach, or chest areas, but the ribs and bones provide more protection in these areas.
One way to lessen the risk of breathing complications when playing paintball is to wear a protective neck strap and a vest.
Paintball Safety Guide: 11 tips to reduce the risk of injuries
- Wear a paintball mask
- Use a barrel sock on the paintball gun to lessen the risk of accidentally firing the marker when not playing the game.
- Do not point your marker at people when you are not playing a game.
- Do not aim or shoot any player not wearing their mask.
- Do not shoot at any player who has been shot, eliminated, or surrendered.
- Follow the field rules.
- Always follow paintball laws and regulations, such as gun velocity. Depending on the country, the accepted velocity might be 280-300 feet per second for outdoor games and 250 for indoors. Check the laws in your jurisdiction.
- Don’t disassemble your air tank if you don’t know what you are doing. HPA and CO2 tanks can be under high pressure and dangerous when not handled properly.
- Wear protective gear such as padding or armor.
- Wear clothes to cover your skin—a full sleeve shirt and pants.
- Wear a groin guard to protect your private parts.
- Wear shoes with sufficient support and traction
Every paintball field has different rules, and sometimes there will be a field marshal or referee to explain regulations and ensure players adhere. Here are a few standard rules often found at paintball venues
- Elimination: When a pellet hits a player, they should yell “I am out!” or “I am hit!” to let everyone know they have been eliminated, and the opposite team can stop firing unnecessary shots.
- Paint check: If a player doubts whether they are eliminated or not, they can yell “paint check!” to have the referee make the decision.
- Surrender: If you are very close to your opponent (10-15 feet proximity), aiming at them, you can say “surrender” or “freeze” to give them a chance to surrender so that you don’t have to shoot at them to eliminate them.
- Age requirement: Some paintball venues require players to be at least 16 years old, and in others, it’s 18 years old. If children are allowed, adults most often have to supervise them.
- Safety instructions: Most fields require players to be instructed on how to protect themselves and operate a paintball marker before playing.
- Safe place: A safe place, safe zone, or safe area is a place in the venue where it is prohibited to bring a paintball gun, and the marker must be left outside the safe zone. It is a place where the players can take off their goggles and protective gear and not worry about getting shot.
- Climbing trees and buildings: Most paintball fields prohibit players from climbing trees, poles, structures, obstacles, or buildings.
Checklist to avoid paintball accidents
- Follow the age requirements for paintball in your area or the age rules of the paintball venue.
- Follow the safety instructions
- Listen to the instructor or referee.
- Check all your equipment before entering the field
- Wear an ASTM-approved anti-fog paintball mask
- Never remove your mask during a game.
- Use a barrel sock on your paintball gun any time you are not playing a game
- If you are a beginner, take it slow.
- Play low-impact paintball instead of regular paintball.
- Wear a padded protective vest, gloves, groin guard, neck protector, and thick shoes.
- Adhere to the rules of the game.
- Do not disassemble the air tank if you don’t know how to do it.
- Seek medical help if you have any injuries
Also, we have made a list of paintball tactics and strategies for you to read.
There was a lot of information in this post, so let’s review some of it:
- Most potential injuries can be avoided by following strict safety measures: wear a paintball mask and protective gear, and use barrel socks.
- Most paintball injuries are minor injuries.
- Most people who visit the emergency room with paintball injuries get treated and released.
- Always remember: Never compromise on safety.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can paintball kill you?
Yes. Although it is rare, people can die from a paintball shot. Wearing protective gear and following strict safety measures makes fatal accidents very unlikely.
Is paintball safe for 12 years old?
In general, paintball is safe for 12-years old provided they follow strict safety guidelines and are supervised by adults. Many regions have age requirements for paintball, so check the laws in your jurisdiction. An alternative activity is low-impact paintball meant for younger players.
Can you get injured from paintball?
Yes. Paintball can cause both minor and significant injuries.
What happens if a paintball hits your eye?
Most people who get hit in the eye by paintball end up in the emergency room for treatment, and it can cause severe visual impairment or even blindness.
Has anyone ever died from a paintball gun?
A 39-year-old man lost his life from a stroke a few days after getting hit by a paintball gun, and it’s unknown whether the paintball caused the stroke. A boy lost his life due to extreme internal liver bleeding after being hit in the same spot by paintballs many times.
Does it hurt getting hit by a paintball?
Paintballs hurt and can leave bruises on the skin for many days. You can reduce the impacts of paintballs, thereby reducing the pain, by wearing protective gear and layers of clothing to cover any exposed skin.