Common Paintball Injuries and How to Avoid Them

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Paintball is a physical sport, and paintball injuries are common. But by taking certain precautions, it’s possible to dramatically reduce the risk of playing. Those just learning how to play paintball for the first time need to be aware of the dangers, as well as the best practices for maximizing safety and fun.

Part of the fun of playing a good paintball game is the physical aspects: the mud, the bruises, and the general athleticism that’s required. Unlike other similar recreational activities (like laser tag), there’s a very real feeling to playing a round of paintball. The impact of getting hit can sometimes hurt, but it’s also an integral element of the sport.

The most common paintball injuries are, predictably, from getting hit by a paintball – but that isn’t the only way paintball players typically get hurt. Like any sport, there’s always a bodily risk involved simply due to the nature of the game.

Can You Get Injured From Playing Paintball?

Yes, it is definitely possible, and arguably probable, to get injured from paintball. This really shouldn’t be a shock. After all, the sport involves the use of compressed gas to propel tiny pellets that can travel at speeds up to 200 miles an hour! It’s also a very physical activity that involves running and frequent quick direction changes, increasing the likelihood of a fall or other overexertion-related injury.

Despite the sport’s popularity, critics are quick to point to the high risk of serious injuries. It’s worth noting though that in many cases, the injuries are completely preventable by following basic safety measures. As well, children under 17 make up the majority of paintball-related hospital visits, suggesting that better education is a key element to reducing risk.

What Does Paintball Pain Feel Like?

close up of direct hit by paintball

It feels painful to get hit by a paintball, but how much really depends on where one is hit, the gun that was used, and the proximity of the shooter. Watch out if playing with a powerful paintball gun! The common feeling of getting hit is best described as a slight sting that fades quickly. It’s similar to getting snapped by a rubber band or firmly flicked in the arm. Getting hit by a paintball can cause a bruise or a welt.

Paintballs that hit bare skin, especially at close range, will be very painful. The groin, the neck, the inner thigh, and the hand are some of the most painful areas to get hit by a paintball. As well, there are more sensitive areas of the body that are especially susceptible to injury if hit, especially the eyes and ears.

The Most Common Paintball Injuries

The most common paintball injuries are minor injuries such as bruises, scrapes, and other “rough-and-tumble” occurrences that you’d expect from a sport like this. This includes lower extremity trauma like twisted ankles and torn muscles. Some players may have difficulty breathing if shot in the throat.

Severe injury includes eye and ear trauma, and even – rarely – death. An eye injury is one of the most dangerous aspects of paintball. Paintball eye injuries can result in permanent damage and even vision loss. Ear trauma is less common, but does happen and can be serious. This is especially true when shot at close range. Ear injuries include cauliflower ear, tinnitus, ruptured eardrums, hearing loss, and even concussions.

According to one study, the most common paintball injuries are those resulting from “pellet wounds”, i.e. injuries resulting from getting hit by a paintball. Having said this, the research only focused on non-fatal paintball injury data from emergency department records, so it only addresses issues like wounds, abrasions, and other trauma that would require medical intervention. Interestingly, the study found that most of the “pellet wounds” being treated involved trauma to the eye. The next most common injury was injury caused by overexertion or falls.

Based on all of the available data, male children under the age of 17 are at the highest risk of injury from playing paintball. Although extremely rare, death can occur – not from getting hit by a paintball, however. There have been reports of fatal injury resulting from CO2 canister accidents.

How To Prevent Paintball Injuries

special protective mask for playing with paintball

Most, if not all, paintball injuries are completely preventable by simply following basic safety rules, using common sense, and being aware of one’s own level of fitness.

There are some basic risk management steps that you can follow to make paintball as safe and enjoyable as possible. These strategies can be used by individual players or facility operators, as there’s a shared responsibility between both parties to keep the game safe.

Wear The Right Safety Equipment

Paintball can be a very safe game if adequate protection equipment is worn at all times. The most important piece to have is ANSI-approved safety goggles, as well as other basic protective equipment like a helmet. Some players also like to wear body armor and/or a cup.

Dress Appropriately

This one should be obvious, but it’s worth stating nonetheless: wearing appropriate clothing is imperative for avoiding paintball injuries. Loose clothing is actually superior for avoiding pain from getting hit than padded clothing and wearing comfortable shoes or boots that you can run around in safely will lower the risk of a sprained ankle.

Avoid Exposed Skin

Since paintballs hitting bare skin is significantly more painful, it’s a good idea to cover up any exposed skin. Wearing gloves is important. Long sleeves and pants are essential too, even in warm weather. You may find that a scarf wrapped around your head and neck also helps cover any skin left exposed by your helmet and goggles.

Implementing Age Restrictions

By far, the highest-risk group for serious injuries are male children under 17 years of age. Proportionately, this group is at a much higher risk of significant trauma such as eye wounds. Based on this data, as well as the difficulty of monitoring a player in this environment, it’s wise to restrict the age to 14 years or older.

While it’s up to individual parents to decide whether or not their child is responsible enough to use paintball guns safely, children under the age of 14 years old should not be left to use paintball equipment unsupervised. The compressed gas canisters pose a significant risk if tampered with or used incorrectly.

Paintball Safety Training

Before anyone starts playing a game of paintball, they should be given a basic safety orientation. This includes the rules for the game, like:

  • Wearing masks at all times
  • No blind firing
  • No drinking alcohol (before or during)
  • No point-blank shooting
  • Leave the field after being hit
  • Obeying the referee
  • Using common sense

Use A Qualified Referee & Clear Signage

The referee has an important role in overseeing fair and safe gameplay during a paintball match, so it’s important to select a qualified individual for this role. Similarly, signage indicating the rules and safety areas (like zones where you can take off your googles) is important for ensuring players are able to keep track of guidelines and no-fire areas.

In most cases, this would be the facility operator’s responsibility. If you plan to organize a match on your own property, however, you’ll need to be mindful of the above safety recommendations. Your municipality or state may also have bylaws restricting paintball gun use in certain areas, so you’ll want to double-check that to avoid getting yourself or your players fined or otherwise penalized.

Final Thoughts on Paintball Injuries

While minor paintball injuries are relatively common, there are several precautions you can follow to make sure that you’re not the subject of a more serious injury. While having fun on the paintball field is, of course, a top priority, keeping yourself safe and free of injury needs to be number one!

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