Ouch! This Is The Reason Papercuts Hurt So Effing Much
Tiny cut, MASSIVE pain.
Paper might look innocent enough when it’s just sitting on your desk in a pile, but slice your finger open with a sheet of A4 and we bet you’ll beg to differ.
Despite their size, papercuts tend to hurt. A lot. Like, machete-slicing-through-your-arm levels of pain. Well, almost.
So why is it that one tiny nick on your fingertip can bring so much pain? Well, apparently it’s more to do with the location of the cut than the actual material doing the cutting.
“It’s all a question of anatomy,” resident UCLA dermatologist Dr Hayley Goldblach tells BBC Futures. According to Dr Goldblach, the high number of nerve endings in our fingertips compared to say, our arms, means that we feel main much more intensely there.
“It would probably also hurt a lot if you got a paper cut on your face or in your genitals, if you can imagine that,” she adds. Ouch.
Like our face and lips, our fingertips are capable of “two point discrimination,” meaning they can perceive pressure from two different points individually. Two prongs of the same fork, for example, or the two ends of an unfolded paperclip. Try the same trick on your back or leg, and it’s likely you won’t be able to tell the two points apart until they’re a couple of centimetres away.
“Fingertips are how we explore the world, how we do small delicate tasks,” adds Dr Goldblach. “So it makes sense that we have a lot of nerve endings there. It’s kind of a safety mechanism.”
Of course, the paper itself isn’t entirely without blame in the Great Papercut Mystery. While the edge of a piece of paper might look straight, under a microscope you’d see jagged edges, more like a serrated knife than a blade. The result? When that sheet of foolscap tears through your skin, things can get messy, even if the cut looks pretty clean.
While there’s not a whole lot you can do if you’re inflicted with a demon papercut except to wait, Dr Goldblach does recommend protecting the wound with ointment and a bandage, even though it may not look all that bad.
“[Papercuts are] deep enough to get past the top layer of the skin, otherwise they wouldn’t hurt. The top layer of skin has no nerve endings,” she explains. Once a cut gets down past the top layer of skin, pain receptors are exposed, and leaving the cut uncovered will only make the pain worse.
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