The Dangers of Paintball and How to Stay Safe


Paintball can be a pretty dangerous sport depending on who you play with and what the rules are. However, there are many things you can do to keep yourself safe while playing this potentially dangerous sport.

The dangers of paintball include:

  • Eye and ear injuries
  • Concussions
  • Genital injuries
  • Cuts
  • Welts and Bruises
  • Sprained/Twisted ankles
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Temporary loss of vision
  • Tripping
  • Internal Injury

Injuries that occur in paintball can be very serious. Some report that eye injuries and blindness can also occur. Depending on how hard the hit is and where it strikes, paintballs can cause injuries to internal organs. So, how do you stay safe?

How Dangerous is Paintball?

Doctors are warning paintball players of these risks because deep organ injuries are possible scenarios in these games. Many paintball advocates state that those injured are simply careless and don’t wear the proper equipment. They have a point.

Paintball entails players shooting hard pellets at each other with high velocities. Serious injury generally comes from the carelessness of players. If a player takes off their mask, they can get hit in the eye. Eye protection is the most important part of safety on the paintball field.

It may be surprising to find out that according to a 2003 study by the National Injury Information Clearinghouse, paintball was declared safer than running, bowling, and just about every other popular sport.

Physical Dangers of Paintball

Clearly, the areas of the body that are most fragile will be at the highest risk of damage. Soft-tissue areas, like eyes, ears, and genitals can suffer serious damage if not protected properly.

Any part of the body can suffer cuts, welts, and bruises when hit by a paintball, especially if the player isn’t wearing clothing that fully covers the skin

In addition to being hit by a paintball, there are the risks associated with running, tripping, and falling as you flee from an attacker. Twisted ankles, blown-out knees, and concussions from colliding with bunkers or other players are not that uncommon.

Paintball bruise

Psychological Injuries from Paintball

Anything that has associations with danger or extreme competition can result in some psychological terror. When you get hit with a paintball, it can cause any number of responses in your body. Add to that an individual’s personal history with firearms or combat and running around a battlefield with a paintball gun can trigger emotional responses. 

Everything is happening so fast, and the noise of markers firing can unnerve you. Relentless, aggressive opponents can easily terrify newer players who may be given lots of stress and anxiety which can trigger a lot of health problems.

Smokers and Paintball

Paintball requires you to be reasonably fit. Otherwise, you will be at a serious disadvantage. In many fields, you have to run, jump, climb, accelerate to high speeds past enemy territory, and hazards such as slipping, falling, and crashing can cause lots of problems.

For those that smoke, paintball can put a toll on the body. Smokers usually have a hard time breathing and moving around, especially because the mask makes breathing more difficult, even for players that don’t smoke.

Smokers are generally slow and easy targets. To overcome this, smokers will need to put a lot of stress on the body to compete at the same level as other players and overdoing, and it can result in a vast amount of health problems.

Can You Be Shot to Death by a Paintball?

Yes, getting shot with a paintball can prove fatal. This is the case when the paintball gun malfunctions and fires much faster than it is supposed or if it’s misused in some way where they are shot many times in fragile parts of the body with little or no padding.

Sometimes the injury can be really serious, for instance when somebody is hit repeatedly at close range. The most lethal hits will occur when a player is hit in the head, windpipe, or heart. This will cause soft tissue injury that could potentially lead to death.

The compressed gas bottle that is mounted on the gun can go off like a rocket if it is dismounted incorrectly. This is rarely talked about but arguably one of the most dangerous aspects of paintball.

In general, though paintballs don’t have enough energy through proper use to cause much damage to sturdier parts of the body. Only fragile parts such as eyes, the larynx, and genitalia are at risk for damage through normal direct hits.

What Does Getting Shot with a Paintball Feel Like? 

A very commonly asked question, along with “does it really hurt to get hit by a paintball?” The answer is yes. Paintballs will usually hurt; this severity depends on a few factors such as where you were hit, what covering you had on, and how fast the paintball was moving.

Paintballs can cause you to bruise, and when you get hit you will immediately notice. It will be a quick sting that is similar to flicks with a rubber band on the arm. This can be accompanied by many other shots if you’re in close quarters. Many times, these hits will cause minor pain and fade in no time.

Some hits will cause painful bruises and welts, so it’s best to minimize this by following a few safety practices.

Getting Hit During Rec Ball

For many people, getting hit from 50 yards away during a recreational game will cause you to barely notice it until the paint splatters.

Getting Hit During Speed Ball

Typically, the guns are shooting faster in speedball than the regular recreational balls. There is also a much greater risk of being shot in close quarters. If you play this game mode, then you may have been playing for a while. Usually, rookies start out in recreational ball.

This means that once you start playing speedball, you will probably be much more accustomed to being hit. Professional paintballers usually play speedball for tournaments.

Getting Hit with Different Gun Types

There are 3 main types of guns that you can be hit with:

  • Normal 68 caliber: Feels like getting hit with a wet bath towel.
  • 50 Caliber or low impact: Feels like getting hit with a wet hand towel.
  • 50 caliber spring-loaded guns: Feels like getting hit with a washcloth.

Getting Hit on Bare Skin

Getting hit right on your bare skin can cause a lot of pain and even draw blood. If the paintball bounces off you and doesn’t break, then this will hurt a lot worse.

The Bloody Halo

This commonly happens when you get shot from a foot away. It’s called a “bloody halo” because it’s a dark red ring that leaks blood with gelatin shells embedded into the skin with a white center that’s the size of a coin.

Some of these will leave scars after they heal, which makes them hard to forget. Players that are too close or shooting too hot cause these injuries. If you’re playing recreationally the offending player can be tossed out.

Paintballs Hurt Because They Travel Fast

About 280 feet per second. Many paintball fields will require a marker to be speed tested at a chronograph before they’re allowed onto the field. To keep players from getting hurt, the standard speed is 240-280 feet per second which are 163-190 mph).

Preventing Paintball Injuries: A Checklist

There are basic risk management steps that can be taken to prevent serious paintball injuries:

  • Make sure all participants are at least 14 years old.
  • Keep all referees qualified and make sure they are alert during games
  • Have participants take a pregame safety orientation that includes equipment use, course layout, and safety rules.
  • Have ANSI-approved safety goggles and other protective equipment.
  • Have all eye goggles undergone testing before you play
  • Use proper footwear, which usually includes athletic shoes or hiking boots.
  • Keep eye goggles on at all times
  • Post signs that mark the required boundaries for eye goggles to be worn.

Since most injuries occur from not wearing masks or proper clothing, just wearing the proper attire will prevent most injuries that can occur.

Tips for Safe Play:

Keep your wits about you. When moving around the field, especially if it’s large like in recreational ball, be aware of your surroundings, so you don’t run into a tree or trip or something and fall down a hill or off an obstacle.

Surrender when necessary. If somebody tells you to surrender, then you should immediately do so because refusing means you will be hit within close quarters, which can hurt a lot and potentially cause injuries. With this being said, avoiding as many close-quarters encounters as you can, will also help keep you from getting injured.

Stay on your feet. Be careful of crawling towards opponents because the top of your head will be exposed where the mask doesn’t cover.

Make Sure Your Gun Isn’t Shooting Hot

Most bruises happen when your gun is shooting too hot; this means it’s moving too fast. And that can hurt other players. Your gun needs to fire within a safe range, which many fields consider 280 frames per second. Other fields will require a different rate so be sure to check their rules.

Getting hit in close range can be another cause of severe bruising. Generally, you never want to try and shoot a player that is less than 20 feet away from you. The longer the paintball is in the air, the more it slows down.

Since getting hit in close range causes a lot of pain, it’s a good rule not to try doing that to other players.

How to Make Paintballs Hurt Less

Since paintballs have the potential to cause serious damage, its best to find ways to keep paintballs from causing serious damage. 

Wear Protective Gear

If you’re wearing a lot of padding, then it will help you stay a lot safer. If all you have is jeans and a t-shirt then you have a much greater chance of getting bruises. If you can’t afford professional padded gear, then you can just wear a sweatshirt or other thick clothing to guard your body.

Wear a protective vest. While many experienced players find this completely unnecessary, it’s never a bad idea. And, for beginners, it may make you feel more comfortable, so put one on. Some fields will actually require players to wear vests for extra safety.

Protect your hands. Your fingers and hands are a particularly vulnerable part of your body, which is why it’s recommended that you wear gloves while playing. They are the closest part of your body to your opponent and very open to being it.

Don’t bare any skin. You can wear a baseball cap backward to cover your neck, and long sleeve shirts and pants will protect your arms and legs. It should go without saying that you need to wear a mask on your face to protect your head and face, shots hitting the goggles rarely hurts.

Always cover your head and eyes. If you go out on the paintball field without this essential protection, you are asking for an injury.

Pay extra attention to sensitive spots: neck, hands, top of head, thighs, knees, and genitals for sure.

Choosing Your Protective Gear

You want your gear to be comfortable and padded enough to protect you while not limiting your movement. Take care to choose clothing and protective layers that allow you to flex, run, bend and move quickly.

When dressing, think about movements that will make areas of your body more vulnerable.

For instance, when you’re crawling, remember that the top of your head is extremely vulnerable. If you choose to crawl, make sure you’re wearing protective headgear. When you are looking up, the very delicate neck area is exposed, so think about wearing a turtleneck or hooded sweatshirt that allows you to cover this area.

Leave the Field When You Are Hit

Every field will have its own rules for safety that’s explained before games. The rules surrounding how you get eliminated will control a lot about how much you get hit.

Generally, you will be out if you get hit directly on the body or gun that leaves a mark the size of a quarter or larger. If you’re hit, you must yell “I’m out” or “I’m hit,” this will help you avoid duplicate hits.

Put your arms up in the air as well as your marker so that everybody knows you’re out and are walking off the field, so you don’t get hit some more. If you aren’t sure whether you got hit, then yell “paint check!” a referee will come over and give you their assessment.

Agree to a Rule of Surrender

This rule is in place to allow beginner players to get a hold of the game without fear of being painfully bombarded by more experienced players.

The rule basically means that any player can yell “freeze,” “point-blank,” or “surrender” to another player that they can shoot to give them a chance to comply by raising their hands.

If the player refuses to comply, then they will attempt to run or shoot. This will be a painful shot, so in good sportsmanship, players try to shoot the foot to minimize pain in this situation.

Keep a Strategic Position and Work as a Team

Make sure you have good communication with your allies so that you don’t get pinned down or ambushed. Many novices forget that paintball is a team sport and that you can play way more effective when you work together rather than as individuals.

One thing you should rarely do is run up the middle of the field without a secure plan in place. It’s better to advance slowly where you can cover each other and keep the enemy pinned down.

Try to know where your opponents are at all times and call them out to your teammates, providing cover and good firing positions from which to strike. Being off by yourself makes you a sole target whereas acting in a coordinated group causes more targets for your opponents and more hits to avoid and cover from.

Positioning is a crucial aspect to paintball, getting caught in a bad position can cause you to get shot within a few seconds, whereas you can last hours in a strategic position and get some eliminations in that time.

Is Paintball Too Dangerous for Kids?

Paintball definitely hits many of the check-boxes that parents look for in a fun sport/activity. Paintball is outdoors, active, and it encourages things like critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork.

Obviously, paintball holds a lot of risk factors, which may cause parents to withhold their children from participating in such an activity. Studies show that kids are much more likely to get hurt while playing rugby, football, and even bowling when compared to paintball

Is There an Age Limit for Paintball?

For those that are 18 or older, you can play paintball with no problem as long as they are fit and healthy. This means that there is no upper age limit as well, you can play paintball in your old age as long as you are fit enough to play and understand the risks.

If you are 15-17 then you will need to have a parent or legal guardian to sign a permission slip. Besides this precaution, those ages will be able to play paintball exactly the same as anybody else.

Every venue will have different rules; for example, some sites require the parents to stay with their children while they play. Others do not require this rule on the other hand.

Will I Need Insurance to Play Paintball?

No, paintball fields are almost always fully insured; this lets you show up and play without having to worry about insurance.

Make sure you are honest with the employees about the age of your child in case anything happens. Any injuries might not be covered under the insurance if you claimed they were older than they are.

What Safety Practices Do Paintball Sites Have?

For many paintball places, they place top priority on the safety of all their players. This is why in recent times the statistics on paintball injuries are lower than bowling injuries.

Setting up the Courses: The most common injuries by far are trips that cause players to tumble down a hill or into an obstacle such as a fort. This can be harmless or quite serious, depending on the hazards around them; many paintball centers take scenarios like these into consideration when they set up their course.

Face Masks: Paintball centers are very serious about their face mask policy due to the fact that, should the mask come off, chances of an eye injury skyrocket.

Many paintball centers have special face masks for younger players so that  they can adjust them with ease and prevent any slipping which can ruin their game and pose a safety hazard.

These special masks all undergo rigorous tests so that they can be certified to stop paintballs with no issue at all.

Face Masks in the War Zone: Face masks have to be worn at all times within the boundaries of the “war zone.” Any touching of the mask within these boundaries is also forbidden to prevent anything from coming loose and falling off. If these rules are followed, then the rate of accidents drops drastically.

Safety Talks and Staff Supervision: Before the first game of the day, everybody is given a safety talk by the employees of the center who have plenty of field experience. These marshals will supervise the battlefield at all times ensuring every bodies safety and that all rules are followed.

If the marshal sees a child or anybody trying to remove their mask, they will immediately be taken off the field for their own safety.

Some Paintball Safety FAQs

Who Do You Play Paintball With?

You will find that paintball games are much more fun with larger groups of at least 20. Marshals will evaluate the playing style of everybody throughout their first couple of games and match them up with individuals of similar ability.

Many times, there is an even mix of juniors, adults, and older teens along with families. Some fields have “regular” days where veteran players are not permitted to play. This ensures that the novice players aren’t overrun and destroyed and decreases overall injury chances. 

Can I Bring My Own Gun?

Yes, many places allow you to bring your own gun, while some may need to make some changes to it to equal the playing field.

Some guns are gravity-fed and can shoot 2-3 times faster than other guns, which put them at a significant advantage. Marshals on these fields will help you re-program your gun to shoot at a speed equal to the others.

Can I Bring My Own Paintballs?

Many fields, while they allow you to bring your own gun, require you to use their own exclusive paint. These centers have to make money somehow, and this allows them to control the ammo flow and make sure no nefarious ammo types are brought in.

How Much Pressure Is Released in a Paintball Gun Shot?

Paintballs can usually be shot with 70-80 psi if the FPS is about 300. This will vary depending on the mass of the paintball, its size and how tightly it fits in the firing chamber.

Pressure will rapidly decrease as the paintball travels down the barrel because of the expanding volume behind it and will drop even more if the barrel is porting.

Some Frightening Paintball Injury Stories

While fatal or life-threatening bodily damage is uncommon, they can happen. Take a look at some of these real-life injuries from the news:

  • A British teenager was reported to go to the hospital after he experienced abdominal pain; this later turned out to be a ruptured liver that happened during paintball. He was saved through emergency surgery.
  • One paintballer reported playing in an indoor field who got hit in the ear lobe by his own teammate at close range. He fell to the ground completely limp, and his body began to twitch uncontrollably. At the ER and it was found that the paintball had ruptured his inner ear.
  • There was one case where a brain hemorrhage occurred on a man after he was hit in the same location where he had a pre-existing condition.
  • A victim of a random act of violence was shot in the face, chest, and back with a paintball gun. He underwent surgery and lost his right eye as a result of the assault.

These stories are not offered to make you fear paintball but, instead, to illustrate just how serious injuries can be when a player is unprotected or being reckless on the field.

The Takeaway

If you take all the safety precautions provided to heart and use as much safety equipment as you can to still play optimally you will be fine.

Paintballs generally cause severe damage when masks aren’t worn, and when close range, hot-firing guns are present. Paintballs will usually not carry enough energy to hurt you seriously.

Many people receive the worst injuries on their hands, which may break the skin and leave a welt, but it will disappear quickly especially if the player is of a younger age.

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