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Why are paper cuts such a bother?

Written by Ivey Ingalls-Rubin, Staff Writer

What happens when you mix a fairly innocent finger-tip with the malicious edge of a piece of paper?

The answer is an obscene amount of pain. But have you ever been curious as to why such a small slice in your little finger renders you so much pain?

There are a few factors that come into play here, one involving the paper, and the other—as you may have guessed—your skin.

The majority of paper cuts, if you’re lucky and not too experimental, occur on your fingers and hands. Your hands are quite complex sensory apparatuses. Those tools at the end of your arm are thoroughly packed with nerve fibers call nociceptors.

These little dudes have the ability to sense pressure, pain and temperature. Not to mention that there are more of these nociceptors on your hands and fingers than anywhere else on your entire body. So when an injury occurs to your fingers and hands it gets much more attention than a similar injury occurring elsewhere on your body. For example, if you were to slice open a little bit of your calf, not nearly as many pain signals would be sent to the brain than if you were to do the same to your finger tip.

To make things even more annoying, you use your hands constantly. You can’t just go a day without using your fingers after you happen to get a paper cut. Life always has you picking things up, setting things down and moving this and that to wherever. So while your minor little paper cut is attempting to heal, the skin around it keeps stretching and pulling the incision apart, thus postponing the healing process even longer and prolonging pain.

So we’ve established the hands are extremely sensitive, but this still doesn’t answer why a paper cut is so much more troublesome then say, a prick from a needle or knife. Well, even the dullest needle or knife has a fairly straight and sharp structure, unlike that of paper which tends to be dull and very flexible.

When a sharp object nicks you (like the needle or knife) it leaves you with a relatively clean cut, as opposed to a paper wound, which flexes on impact and gives much more microscopic damage to the skin; basically you’re serrating your skin on a microscopic level.

Paper cuts also tend to be quite shallow with little to no bleeding. So without the formation of a blood clot, all those millions of nerves are left exposed to air and other nuisances, which makes for a much more noticeably obnoxious, longer lasting cut.

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