We’re reading a book or opening an envelope when, all of a sudden, there’s a sharp pain on our finger.
You see a little bit of blood and realize you’ve just gotten a paper cut.
Ouch! Why do finger tiny cuts hurt more? How could it be? What is the best way to treat the wound?
Dr Hayley Goldbach, a resident dermatologist at UCLA Health, spoke about
- Why paper cuts hurt so much?
- Why paper cuts are so jagged?
- How can a paper cut hurt so much and for so long?
- How the element of surprise leaves us in more pain？
- How to treat the wounds and make sure they heal quickly？
1. Why paper cuts hurt so so much？
“The extreme pain felt when something injures your fingers is simply the result of evolution working as it should.”
Dr Goldbach explained that one reason paper cuts hurt so much is where they occur: primarily on the finger. We can use our knowledge of human anatomy to help us out here. It’s all a question of anatomy.
“We have nerve endings all over the body,” she said. “In places where there is refined movement and sensation — like the lips or tips of the fingers — they have a high density of nerve endings.”
These nerve endings are known as nociceptors and they send signals to the brain about things that could cause a break in the skin, such as extremely hot or cold temperatures and chemicals.
“Fingertips are how we explore the world, how we do small delicate tasks.” Dr Hayley Goldbach told the BBC.“
It’s kind of a safety mechanism. So it makes sense that we have a lot of nerve endings there. This actually makes a good deal of evolutionary sense.
Another reason why paper cuts hurt so much is that you’re using your hands throughout the day, meaning that the wound is constantly getting opened.
“You often get paper cuts on the pad or the tip of the finger, different from where you’d get a knife cut,” said Dr Goldbach.
“It’s hard not to use your hands, so there’s constant pressure on the wound without a chance for it to heal.”
2. Why paper cuts are so jagged?
The paper itself is another reason why these superficial cuts leave us in so much pain.
To the naked eye, paper might look and seem smooth but, if you study it under a microscope, the edge is actually jagged.
“Paper is quite sharp, jagged — it’s a bit of serrated edge,” said Dr Goldbach. “It cuts you pretty quickly before you have the chance to realize it.”
This, in turn, leaves behind a cut that is jagged rather than smooth.
Additionally, paper is made from wood pulp, cotton and other fibers, which can be left behind in the wound.
“Paper can contain fibers that are inflammatory, which is why it’s important to run the cut under water and wash it with a little soap,” said Dr Goldbach.
3. How can a paper cut hurt so much and for so long?
Additionally, paper cuts are quite shallow, which makes them even more annoying to deal with.
When the body has a deep cut, blood clots to prevent bleeding and then a scab forms to protect it.
But paper creates cuts deep enough to reach the nociceptors but not deep enough to trigger the clotting mechanism, meaning it takes longer for new skin to replace the dead cells.
The nerves that the paper revealed when it tore apart your skin continue to be exposed to the outside world.
4. How the element of surprise leaves us in more pain?
The injury itself is minor, but the resulting pain and emotional response are not.
Dr Goldbach added that there are mental and emotional elements that cause paper cuts to hurt more than other cuts.
“There’s the psychological element of surprise, that it happens so quickly that you don’t have time to withdraw your hand,” she said.
“With some other injuries, you feel pressure so you have time to react.”
She also added that because we don’t expect to hurt ourselves while working with paper, the surprise of cuts leaves us in further pain.
“We tend to be careful with a knife — you’re being careful on purpose because you know there’s a danger,” said Dr Goldbach.
While we’re careful with knives, we’re not so careful with paper.
5. How to treat the wounds and make sure they heal quickly?
If you do get a paper cut, Dr Golbach recommends washing it with soap and water and cover it with a bandage (or a liquid bandage).
“You want to make sure it’s clean and covered to prevent re-traumatizing it,” she said.
Dr Goldbach also suggests to not believe the old wives’ tale that claims cuts heal faster if left uncovered because they form scabs.
She says wounds that are kept moist under a bandage will be less painful and will replace the damaged skin cells more quickly with new ones.
“Wounds like to be moist when they heal, it helps them heal quicker,” she said.
Dr Goldbach added that paper cuts don’t have high rates of infection — in fact, it happens so rarely that there are no available statistics — but warns that there are situations in which you should seek medical attention.
“If it’s red, if there’s drainage, it looks contaminated or infected, see a doctor immediately,” she warned.
Deployed properly, it can be a serious weapon: the paper cuts would really really hurt, but it probably wouldn’t kill you. So take it easy, babe.
It’s necessary to have emergency medicine at home. The following list should be provided: