Does Paintball Hurt?

A Guide to Paintball Bruises With 5 Ways to Lessen the Sting of Impact

David McBryan, Paintballer-in-Chief

David McBryan
Paintballer-in-Chief
Updated: 09/28/20
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Does paintball hurt? Yes. But without the threat of pain, would paintball be even half as fun? This guide explains how much paintball hurts. (Quick read.)

Does paintball hurt pr - primary image

“It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure.”

That quote is from an 18th century French philosopher named Marquis de Sade, who had an instrumental role in the 1789-1799 French Revolution.

What do paintball and the French Revolution have in common?

Honestly, not much.

But de Sade’s quote about the pain of war can apply to paintball as well. If you didn’t have to risk agonizing eliminations and quarter-sized welts, would paintball be nearly as fun?

Not a chance!

In this quick guide we’ll cover everything you need to know about paintball’s dangerous side:

  • Does paintball hurt?
  • How much pain are we talking about?
  • Paintball welts vs bruises (yes, there’s a difference)
  • How to treat paintball injuries
  • Does paintball hurt more than airsoft?
  • How to lessen the sting of paintball impacts

Let’s hit it.

Does Paintball Hurt?

Paintballs travel around 285 feet per second (fps). That speed is easier to understand when converted to more relatable units: 195 mph.

That’s the top-speed NASCAR cars reach at Daytona International Speedway.

Getting hit with anything traveling that fast is going to hurt, even if it’s a 3-gram paintball.

Paintballs travel as fast as race cars at Daytona International Speedway, the second-fasted track in the NASCAR circuit.
Paintballs travel as fast as race cars at Daytona International Speedway, the second-fasted track in the NASCAR circuit.

So, How Much Pain Are We Talking Here?

Not a ton. Getting hit by a paintball on bare skin feels like a bee sting, or if someone snapped a rubber band on your arm (or hand or leg or wherever you’re unfortunate enough to get hit).

Believe it or not, it actually hurts less if the paintball breaks when on impact. If it bounces off it’ll hurt more. At least you’ll still be in the game.

Though annoying, the sting of getting hit by a paintball is fleeting. What doesn’t go away as quickly is the trademark paintball welt.

Welts and bruises are an inevitable part of the world of paintball.
Welts and bruises are an inevitable part of the world of paintball.

Most paintball bruises disappear within 1 week, generally 2 at the worst. Of course, that’s specific to the individual. Some people bruise easily and take a long time to recover. Thankfully, I’m not one of them. I can’t remember the last time I got a non-paintball bruise, and even the paintball ones go away in 2-3 days.

Paintball Welts vs Bruises

For the most part these terms are used interchangeably, but they’re different things from a medical perspective.

  • Welts are raised, swollen marks on the skin.
  • Bruises are discolorations caused by burst capillaries that are spilling blood into surrounding tissues.

Welts go away faster than bruises, which will persist for a few days. Sometimes you’ll have a dual welt/bruise from a single impact.

The raised injuries in the image above are good examples of welts. The injury here is just a run-of-the-mill paintball bruise.
The raised injuries in the image above are good examples of welts. The injury here is just a run-of-the-mill paintball bruise.

How to Treat Paintball Injuries

I’m adding this section because new players always ask me how they should treat the many, many welts and bruises they get from their first day on the field.

(Do you remember your first day? Man, I was covered in welts.)

I’m not a doctor, so don’t misconstrue this is legit medical advice, but here’s a few basic things you can do to treat your welts:

  • Pop some ibuprofen.
  • Wash the welt with soap and warm water.
  • Apply a cold compress to reduce swelling.
  • Apply a topical lotion with vitamin K (which promotes blood clotting).

Does Paintball Hurt More Than Airsoft?

Paintballs weight 16 times more than airsoft BBs, but airsoft BBs travel nearly twice as fast as paintballs.

Which hurts more?

If you guessed paintball, you’re right.

This resource does a great job showing the relative forces of impact for paintball vs airsoft. Let’s look at your typical 3-gram paintball compared to a 0.2-gram airsoft BB:

  • 0.2-gram airsoft BB at 450 fps: 1.88 Joules
  • 3-gram paintball at 250 fps: 8.71 Joules

Note: Joules are a standard unit of energy. You may remember them from high school physics class. Or, more likely, you don’t remember them at all!

That’s 4.63 times more force upon impact for a paintball despite the fact that it’s traveling nearly half as fast (and well below the common maximum allowable speed of 285 fps).

A thick layer of clothing will lessen the sting of paintball impacts. Loose clothing is better than form-fitting gear because it absorbs energy better.
A thick layer of clothing will lessen the sting of paintball impacts. Loose clothing is better than form-fitting gear because it absorbs energy better.

How to Lessen the Sting of Paintball Impacts

You can’t prevent paintball impacts from hurting. You can only hope to mitigate them.

That said, I have to acknowledge the obvious: The easiest way to avoid the sting of paintball impacts is to avoid getting hit. But unless you’re either spending your whole day in hiding or are world class paintballer battling against a bunch of little kids, you’re probably going to get hit at least once. (And probably a lot more.)

So, when you inevitably get hit, here are 5 ways to lessen the sting of impact.

1. Cover as much of your skin as possible

The worst place to get hit is anywhere with exposed skin. The first thing you can do is make sure you have some layer of clothing, even something thin, over exposed areas that could get hit. This is especially true of your neck. Wear some kind of lightweight scarf or wrap.

What else do you need? Our guide to the 13 Key Pieces of Paintball Clothing has everything laid out for you.

2. Wear bulky clothing

The easiest way to lessen the pain is to wear thick outer layers. Of course, too much extra clothing has its downsides, namely speed and flexibility. In woodsball this is less of a problem, but in speedball excess clothing can seriously impact your play.

Weather is another consideration. You don’t want to be wearing thick layers of clothing when it’s hot outside. Heat exhaustion can be a real risk on the paintball field, and you’ll move and sweat enough when playing in minimal clothing.

3. Wear loose clothing

You’d think that loose clothing gives your opponent more surface area to target, but it actually has the opposite effect. When paintballs strike loose clothing, it slows their rate of travel and absorbs the force of impact better than tight-fitting clothing. Remember that awesome day in kindergarten when you built protective cages for eggs and dropped them from elevation? It’s a lot like that.

4. Wear protective gear

Generally, protective gear (like knee pads, elbow pads, and forearm pads) are worn to prevent injury in woodsball when players are running across uneven terrain or crawling over hard roots. This same protective gear comes in handy when struck by a paintball.

One oft-overlooked body part that’s rarely protected and constantly exposed are your hands, so many paintball players elect to wear gloves. Like most things on the paintball field, there’s a trade-off to wearing gloves. Some players need bare hands to feel their marker when they pull the trigger. If this sounds like you, consider wearing weight lifting gloves. You know, those ones with the finger tips cut off? You’ll get the best of both worlds: great touch and protection for the back of your hand.

5. Avoid getting hit at close range

Some paintball venues require surrenders, where firing players may yell out “Surrender!” to opponents within 10-20 feet who have no clue they’re in someone’s sights. The reason is simple: Close-range impacts hurt and can be flat-out dangerous.

If you’re overly worried about the pain of getting hit, try to avoid close-range combat. Work on your accuracy and become a sniper. Every team needs one of those.

Final Thoughts About the Pain of Paintball Impacts

Does paintball hurt? Yes. Unless you’re some kind of masochist, no one likes the sharp, sting-like pain of a direct paintball-on-skin impact. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil of simulated firearm combat sports. And, if you ask me, the pain of getting eliminated—to both your body and your pride—makes it that much sweeter when you emerge victorious.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does paintball hurt?

Paintballs travel around 285 feet per second (fps) - put another way that's 195 MPH. Getting hit with anything traveling that fast is going to hurt, even if it’s a 3-gram paintball.

How much does it hurt?

Getting hit by a paintball on bare skin feels as if someone snapped a rubber band on your arm or like a bee sting.

How should you treat paintball injuries?

I’m not a doctor but here’s a few basic things you can do:

  • Take ibuprofen
  • Wash the welt with warm water and soap
  • Apply a cold compress to reduce swelling
  • Apply a topical lotion with vitamin K (which promotes blood clotting)
Does paintball hurt more than airsoft?

If you guessed paintball, you’re right. Paintballs weight 16 times more than airsoft BBs, but airsoft BBs travel nearly twice as fast as paintballs.

How do you lessen the pain?
  1. Avoid getting hit at close range
  2. Wear bulky, loose clothes
  3. Cover as much skin as possible
  4. Wear protective gear
What's the difference between a bruise and a welt?
  • Welts are raised, swollen marks on the skin.
  • Bruises are discolorations caused by burst capillaries that are spilling blood into surrounding tissues.

Welts go away faster than bruises, which will persist for a few days.

Can a paintball gun kill you?

Injured? Yes. Killed? No.

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Credits

  • Featured image courtesy Pikist
  • NASCAR racing courtesy U.S. Air Force
  • Paint­ball welts cour­tesy Rus­sell Ber­nice on Flickr
  • Paintball bruise on arm courtesy Ben Dalton on Flickr
  • Loose cloth­ing courtesy Pxfu­el
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