Can A Bowling Ball Actually Kill You?


There are quite a few stories of dangerous situations where people have been hit by bowling balls. You might have your own stories to share. Depending on the speed of the ball and which part of the body it hit, the severity of the outcome can be very different. 

In short, yes, a bowling ball can kill you. Being a dense and heavyweight object, striking any part of your body can cause severe injuries. Now, if it strikes you in the head, it can kill you.  For a less tragic outcome, you could also go into a coma or get a heavy concussion.

Many people have gotten hit or injured by a bowling ball and survived. Others haven’t been so lucky. More than 20,000 people arrive in emergency rooms each year from bowling alley injuries. Can a good old bowling ball turn out to be so dangerous? We will find out.

Can A Bowling Ball Kill You?

Getting hit by a bowling ball can put anyone in a dangerous situation. It can cause severe head damage. Such as concussions, a cracked skull, hearing loss, and even memory loss. These are just some of the consequences that can arise from getting hit on the head by a bowling ball.

The extent of these injuries will vary based on how the ball was thrown or rolled and how fast it was going.

Most cases of people dying from getting hit with a bowling ball have been reported to have occurred in violent environments. Altercations in bowling alleys happen more often than they should. Taking a bowling ball and throwing it at someone can quickly turn out to be deadly. 

Other situations in which people get hurt elsewhere on the body can be taken care of with proper medical attention. 

How Much Does A Bowling Ball Weigh?

Bowling balls were made out of hard rubber back in the 1960s. Starting in the 1970s, polyester balls made an entrance and were designated as the ball of choice. Later in the ‘80s, urethane balls started being fabricated. These were then developed into reactive and proactive urethane. 

As per standard regulations, a bowling ball should not weigh more than 16 lbs (no minimum weight). The circumference of a bowling ball should not exceed 27.002 inches nor be less than 26.704 inches. Its surface hardness should not be less than 72 Durometer ‘D’.

A bowling balls’ legal weight should be between the 6-16 pound range. The heaviest known custom bowling ball is 23 pounds. Some players have custom balls made in the  18-23 pound range. Although not strictly legal your fingers will be very sore after a game carrying that much weight around.

Below is a list of the average weights for Bowling Balls:

  • 6 lb = 2.72 kg
  • 7 lb = 3.18 kg
  • 8 lb = 3.63 kg
  • 9 lb = 4.08 kg
  • 10 lb = 4.54 kg
  • 12 lb = 5.44 kg
  • 14 lb = 6.35 kg
  • 16 lb = 7.26 kg

What makes a bowling ball heavy?

The two main things that make a bowling ball heavy are the cover stock material and the number of holes the ball has. 

The four most common cover stock materials are:

  • Plastic cover stock
  • Urethane
  • Reactive resin
  • Particle (Proactive)

Why Is Getting Hit On The Head Dangerous?

Your bony skull is home to your delicate brain. Layers of membranes and fluid protect it by providing extra padding. Even if your brain is hidden under these cushions, it is still vulnerable to injuries. Damage to your brain can affect everything you do, from thinking to moving. 

A blow to the head with a heavy object can affect the brain, causing a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Escaping with a contusion and a minor skull fracture is possible depending on the type of hit. More serious consequences are:

  • Intracranial bleed
  • Brain damage
  • Skull damage
  • Visual problems
  • A broken neck or immediate death

Swelling in the brain increases intracranial pressure to dangerous extents. Since there isn’t too much space in the cranium for it to expand when swollen, it is harder to supply the brain with blood. If the pressure continues, the blood supply cannot flow. With only a few minutes without a blood supply, brain cells die.

The back of the head is very fragile, so it depends on how hard of a blow it is and where you get hit. If the blow is at the base of the skull, around the brainstem, it is almost definite that it will kill you instantly.

If the trauma is higher up and more of a grazing blow, you’ll only get a concussion, an aching laceration, or a throbbing lump.

At the sight of something aiming towards them, humans will usually protect their heads as a survival instinct. 

Ways You Can Be Injured By Bowling Balls

Accidents are reported by people in bowling centers all the time. Non-bowlers don’t know injuries do happen in bowling and specifically with bowling balls. It is a fantastic sport for the whole family but precautions should be in place, some of these injuries happen simply by not paying attention. 

Common injuries with bowling balls are:

  • Fingers stuck inside bowling ball: this is a frequent yet silly bowling injury that can really hurt. Other than the regular stuck-thumb injuries, some can be so intense that they need immediate medical attention.
  • Thumb injuries: known as bowler’s thumb. This very painful condition happens when the ulnar nerve inside your thumb has too much pressure on it. This is the result of a bowler holding a bowling ball more tightly than necessary.
  • Broken wrists: the wrist is a fragile joint that connects with different important soft tissues and the distant bones of the forearm. Critical wrist injuries can seriously impact a person’s life. Repetitive bowling activities and wrist injuries are very closely related. 
  • Smashed faces: putting your head on the return rack when the ball returns can be very dangerous. You can find kids doing this when they are eager to see their ball come back.
  • Foot injuries: These cause a lot of pain in your feet. When performing a wrong slide and twist, injuries can happen. Incorrect foot placement can also cause a severe injury such as strain and pain in the ankle. Foot injuries can be caused by not having the proper sliding shoes which in turn cannot support sliding on the lane. Another type of foot injury can occur by dropping a bowling ball on your foot.

Indirect injuries that can happen from recurring bowling:

  • Back injuries: bowling can create major pressure in your back when lifting or throwing the ball. Lacking good technique and lifting heavy balls could cause extreme back injury. The most commonly reported back pain injury in bowling is lower back pain. 
  • Shoulder injuries: this is one of the most common injuries for bowlers as the game involves a high amount of arm movement. Improper techniques can cause this type of injury since your arm and shoulder move together while bowling,
  • Bowler’s elbow injuries: just like tennis elbow or golf elbow, this type of injury is very common in the bowling world. Elbow injuries can be caused by inflammation of the tendons in your arms, inducing pain in your elbow or forearm.  

Other Ways To Get Injured While Bowling

  • Slipping and falling: you should never cross the foul line when throwing your ball down the lane. The lane is coated with synthetic oil that helps the ball roll. If you cross past this line, you are most likely going to slip and fall.
  • Improper shoes: most professional bowling shoes sold in stores have more sole traction on one foot than the other. Leather on the sliding foot and rubber on the non-sliding foot can help you push off when swinging the ball. Rental shoes you normally find in bowling alleys are often in poor conditions as such bowling connoisseurs highly recommend choosing shoes carefully with these factors in mind. 

Safety Tips On The Lanes

  • Always use two hands to pick up the ball
  • Test the ball weight to find one that fits you
  • Strengthen your wrist tendons
  • Tone your arms by practicing holding the ball
  • Practice standing with hands-on-hips to reduce torso strain
  • Wear comfortable clothing
  • Stay cool and hydrated
  • Stretch and warm-up
  • Never keep your hands on the bowling ball return rack

Take Away

Bowling balls need to be handled with caution. Their composition and weight can result in severe injuries and even death. Always pay attention to your surroundings to prevent common mishaps, especially when bowling with kids.

Bowling is a fun activity to do with the whole family. But everything from the machinery processes, the shoes, and the return rack can be risk factors.

We hope you learned a thing or two about the dangers of misusing a bowling ball. Enjoy your games and practice in a safe environment!

Tim C, M.D.

My grandfather and my mother both taught me bowling in the early 1970’s. I spent the next few decades working my way up to the top tiers of local amateur bowling leagues, and continued to participate in college at the club level. My wife and bowled in coed leagues before kids, and then taught our kids bowling as they grew up. Now I’m here to answer some of the web’s common questions about bowling rules, techniques, equipment and more. To see more about the site, check our About Page

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