We’ve all been there, while flipping through a book or reading the daily newspaper and suddenly, we’ve cut ourselves – a paper cut. But somehow, it happens to hurt a lot more than any other normal cut. Our immediate reaction is to quickly press the wound down and perhaps wipe the small amount of blood that accumulates away. Have you ever wondered why they hurt so much?
This silent injury that occurs somewhere as harmless as the library takes place so quickly that you barely have the time to register what happened. All you feel is a sudden jolt of pain. And what was the weapon that caused this? Just a regular piece of paper.
Why are fingertips so sensitive?
For starters, when we say the word ‘paper cut’ the first image that pops up in our mind is that of a minuscule cut on a fingertip. You thought the same thing, didn’t you? No one really thinks of these minor cuts as those that could occur on knees or the stomach. Fingertips are always the prime focus. Even then, if you did get a paper cut on your stomach or knees (what were you doing?), it probably wouldn’t hurt so much.
Our fingertips are very sensitive. They serve as the primary means of the sense of touch, one of our five senses, as you know already. Since they serve this purpose, they have many more nerve fibers, known as nociceptors that help process the information they collect via the sense of touch. These help us feel pressure, temperature, texture, pain among other things. Because they serve this complex function of touch, the fingertips are concentrated centers of nerve fibers. These nerve fibers are not that concentrated in any other part of the body, so a paper cut anywhere else, would probably not hurt so much.
The Weapon – Paper
Paper is a regular stationery commodity but somehow it is capable of such sensitive damage that it leaves you bewildered that it could cause a cut that hurts much more than any normal one. One sheet of paper probably isn’t equivalent to a knife but its edges are razor sharp. Unlike the knife which is straight and sharp, paper is flexible. This is probably why it can slice through the skin so easily but at the same time, give a very uneven cut which is not the case in a knife cut.
The Mechanism Behind a Paper Cut
So as you are flipping through your favorite novel and the paper cuts your skin, here’s what happens:
The paper shears through your skin working similar to the way a loaf of bread is cut using a knife – basically shearing your skin in an uneven manner. This cuts through the nerve fibers on your fingertips sending pain signals to your brain immediately which results in you taking your hand away from the book within milliseconds and looking at what happened, totally confused.
If observed under a microscope, a paper cut causes much more microscopic damage. Since the cut is superficial, it leaves the nerve endings exposed, causing irritation. Plus, it doesn’t help that even after the cut, we continue working as usual, reopening the wound over and over again and not letting it heal properly. This is why it takes much more to heal as well.
So what should you do the next time you get a papercut?
Clean the wound and place a band-aid over it! This would ensure that it heals up quickly and would provide you with a much less painful paper cut experience.