How Common Are Serious Paintball Injuries?

A Look at the Data Available May Surprise You

Daniel Torres Bonatto/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The most common question about paintball is if it hurts to get hit by a paintball. The second most common question is: How dangerous is paintball is?

In reality, paintball is relatively safe and most injuries come from falling or running into obstacles on the field. The most serious injuries, though very rare, come from players taking off their masks and other safety equipment. In general, if you follow the safety rules of paintball, it's a very safe sport.

Is Paintball a Safe Sport?

It may surprise you to know that a 2003 study by the National Injury Information Clearinghouse (U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission), stated that paintball is safer than bowling, running, and almost every other popular sport. 

Many people who play paintball will tell you that their most serious injury comes not from being shot, but by running around the field. They may twist an ankle, trip while running into a bunker, or slam their elbow on a tree.

There is the potential for serious injury, however, and it often comes with carelessness. The most common major injury happens when a player takes off their mask and gets hit in the eye. The importance of safety equipment, particularly eye protection, on the paintball field cannot be stressed enough.

Looking at Emergency Room Data

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (ARHQ) studies, among other things, healthcare usage.

One of the things they track is Emergency Department (ED) usage including the diagnosis for each person who comes into the ED as part of the Hospital Cost and Utilization (H-CUP) project.

Periodically, analysts at AHRQ release reports on trends among ED usage. In 2008, they released a statistical brief on the injuries arising from airguns - both BB guns and paintball guns.

Conveniently, they then broke down the information by what type of gun caused the injury.

This data paints an interesting picture of paintball:

  • Only 614 people ended up in EDs as a result of paintball injuries.
  • Of those, only 12% (or approximately 74 people) were admitted to the hospital.
  • This means that the vast majority were treated and released, implying that the injury wasn’t overly serious.

To put the total number of ED visits in perspective, it’s estimated that over 10 million people play paintball in the United States each year. This means that for every 16,000 people who play paintball, one will end up in the ED. Also, fewer than one in every 135,000 will be admitted to a hospital.

The odds of a serious injury, then, are astronomically low.

What the Data Doesn't Say About Paintball Injuries

These reports, however, only tells part of the story. Some people who are injured choose not to seek medical treatment.

Others who do go to the ED may not have actually been playing paintball. For instance, people who accidentally shot themselves while working on a gun or were shot in a drive-by paintball assault.

More importantly, the report does not tell the types of injuries players received. How many people went to the ED because of the welts and bruises that are expected with paintball?

How many went because of serious injuries? Of the serious injuries, how many were from players who had taken their mask off while on the field?

The effect of the report doesn’t change my perception of the safety of paintball. I still feel that, as long as players wear their masks, it is a very safe game. There will be minor injuries (bruises and strains), but major injuries are simply not a part of the sport.

Fortunately, severe injuries are very rare in paintball and they are often the result of players improperly removing their masks. Just like all other sports, minor injuries are part of playing. As long as players follow the safety rules, they shouldn't worry about getting severely injured.