Physics Van 3-site Navigational Menu

Physics Van Navigational Menu

Q & A: Why paper cuts hurt more

Learn more physics!

Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
Why do paper cuts hurt so bad? They're just a small cut...
- Owen (age 16)
Chicago
A:

Owen,

I found an answer to that question here: http://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/paper-cuts/.

Papercuts are more painful because, due to all the stuff in paper, some of it is left behind, in the wound when you get cut. Then, the wound quickly closes in on itself, sealing the foreign matter inside. The foreign matter stimulates pain receptors in your finger, causing the stinging sensation.

There are also two additional components to this:

  1. Paper isn’t quite as sharp on the edge as, say, a razor blade, (the comparison in the above web link). A dull blade will do more damage to the tissue on a microscopic level than a sharp one; the dull blade makes tiny rips and tears which hurt quite a lot and take longer to heal.
  2. It may have a large psychological component. We don’t expect paper to hurt us, and we get angry and upset when it does. If we cut ourselves with a kitchen knife, we fully expect it to hurt a lot and take a long time to heal, and are more prepared to deal with the pain. Paper cuts come unexpectedly, when we are engaged in what we think is a low-risk activity, and we can get impatient with them when they heal slowly. They may not even be worse than a cut with a kitchen knife. And a serrated steak knife almost certainly will leave a worse cut.

Jason and Tom


(published on 10/22/2007)

Follow-up on this answer.