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Paintball Injuries

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Paintball Injuries
Daniel Torres Bonatto/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
The most common first question I get about paintball is if it hurts to get hit by a paintball. The second most common question, though admittedly it is much less common, is how dangerous paintball is. I’ve typically referred people to the study by the National Injury Information Clearinghouse of the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, it's safer than bowling. After that, I would usually then proceed to share anecdotal stories that I had never seen a serious injury and that my most serious injury occurred when I was running into a bunker, tripped and slammed my elbow into a tree. In conclusion I would mention that generally, the only serious injuries that occur are when someone takes off their mask and gets hit in the eye. Now, though, there’s some more information available. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is an agency of the United States government that 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 and they recently 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.

The most recent data are from 2008 and paint 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 meaning 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, which means that if you play paintball, you have less than a one in 16,000 people who play paintball will end up in the ED and fewer than one in 135,000 will be admitted to a hospital. The odds of a serious injury, then, are astronomically low.

This report, though, certainly only tells part of the story. Some people who are injured do not go to the ED and some people who go to the ED may not have actually been playing paintball, such as people who were hurt when they shoot 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 injury that player received. How many people went to the ED because of welts and bruises that are a part of paintball and 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. In the past few years the only severe injuries I am aware of have come as a result of players improperly removing their masks. Just like all other sports, minor injuries are part of playing, but, as long as players follow the safety rules, they shouldn't worry about getting severely injured.

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