Why Do Paper Cuts Hurt So Bad?

We’ve all experienced it, and the first time it happened we were all amazed because of the pain such a silly thing can cause. You cut yourself on paper and you feel like you won’t be functional for at least the next 24 hours… and why is it so? How come a small cut on your finger made by a piece of paper can often hurt more than, for example, cutting it with a knife while peeling potatoes or hitting your head on the open window pane?

There are several reasons we experience this pain so… well, so painfully. Studies have been made, articles have been written and they all say pretty much the same thing: it has to do with your skin structure, the structure of paper, the part of body that is involved (hands, most usually fingers) and even a little psychology. So let’s elaborate.

First off: hands and fingers. Our hands have a significantly bigger number of nerve fibers than most other parts of our body. These fibers, called nociceptors, are the reason we feel pain at all. When you hurt your skin, they are the ones transmitting this information to your brain, which results in the feeling of pain – to warn you, in case you haven’t noticed the blood. And that’s not it. Some of the most sensitive nerves in the human body are placed near the surface of your skin. So, it will hurt more if you have a shallow cut than if it is a deeper one. Weird but true – scientists said it.

Now, when you cut on paper, since it is, like we said, a shallow cut, it will most probably not bleed much, if even at all. The damaged tissues and neurons remain exposed, which means it is literally an open wound, and it is a part of your body you use so much. So whenever you move your finger, you will feel the pain all over again. Thanks to lack of blood, it will also take much longer for it to heal than it would have had the cut been deeper. The best you can do is to try not to use the finger in question for the rest of the day… and you will probably fail at this quest. It’s a finger – we use them all the time!

Now, what does paper structure have to do with the pain, you ask yourself. It has everything to do with it, and it is the reason it hurts more cutting on paper than cutting on knife. When you look at paper with bare eyes, it may seem perfectly smooth, but guess what – it is the opposite of smooth. Under the microscope, you could see that it looks more like a saw. It is not a clean cut at all! It is like a jagged, microscopic saw cutting through your skin… literally ripping it apart. Now it seems a bit clearer why it hurts so much, right? Another thing – when you cut on paper, it leaves behind chemical-coated particles that keep irritating the wound. Wow, there is so much more to this than you expected, isn’t there?

Psychologists also say that we may feel the pain more because it is on the body part we use and see so often, so we are often reminded of the pain, which probably wouldn’t be the case if we cut, for example, our foot. Also, it will come as a surprise that something as seemingly harmless as a piece of paper can cause so much pain, and it will keep our minds more focused on it.

It is also pretty easy to get this paper cut wound irritated, so make sure you wash your hands with soap and water and keep them as clean as possible. Dry the wound by tapping it with a paper towel or a clean towel, avoiding the one that is used by everyone in the house. Just for precaution, you might also want to apply a thin layer of anti-bacterial cream or hydrogen peroxide. If you plan on keep working with paper, use a band-aid to ensure you won’t hurt your finger again. Serious infections after paper cuts are rare, but if it gets more painful and you see it hasn’t healed for a few days, go see a doctor.

Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid paper cuts… it happens to everyone. You don’t pay attention to paper when you are reading a good book or going through the newspaper, so it is not unusual to get cut. The best you can do is try to keep your mind off it when it happens, and use our advice to keep it from getting irritated and hurting even worse. Leave the wound open and without a band-aid if possible. It won’t bleed much so you don’t have to worry whether you will leave blood stains on whatever you are doing. And then, just wait. Fortunately, as painful as it is, it is still a small cut, so soon you will forget it ever happened… until the next time.