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May 30, 2010

BehindTheMedspeak: Why are paper cuts so painful?

800px-Oww_Papercut_14365

From Wikipedia, in response to a tweet from Erin Biba:

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A paper cut occurs when a piece of paper or other thin, sharp material slices a person's skin.

Paper cuts, though named from paper, can also be caused by other thin, stiff materials, such as aluminum foil, and thin blades of grass.

Although a loose paper sheet is usually too soft to cut, it can be very thin (sometimes as thin as a razor edge), being then able to exert high levels of pressure, enough to cut the skin. Paper cuts are most often caused by paper sheets that are strongly fastened together (such as brand new paper out of a ream), because one single paper sheet might be dislocated from the rest. Thus all the other sheets are holding this dislocated sheet in position, and the very small part held away from the rest can be stiff enough to act as a razor.

Paper cuts can be surprisingly painful as they can stimulate a large number of skin surface pain receptors (nociceptors) in a very small area of the skin. Because the shallow cut does not bleed very much, the pain receptors are left open to the air, ensuring continued pain. This is exacerbated by irritation caused by the fibers in the paper itself, which may be coated in chemicals such as bleach. Additionally, most paper cuts occur in the fingers, which have a greater concentration of sensory receptors than the rest of the body.

The random orientation of collagen fibers in skin provides the ability to withstand pinpoint forces. However, skin does not have the same strength against shearing, and is easily cut. The same principle can be applied to performers that stand on blades.

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The Wikipedia entry notes that if you happen to be curious about Linkin Park's song "Papercut," you should look here.

There's a 40-second-long audio sample of the song embedded in the entry.

May 30, 2010 at 05:01 PM | Permalink


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Comments

Flautist,

I agree totally...

And, a paper cut on the tongue snaps you into another dimension!

Posted by: JoePeach | May 31, 2010 5:39:59 PM

The worst paper cuts I've ever had have always been from those lethal brown kraft paper envelopes - the edges of the flaps with the glue. The Band-Aid people must be in cahoots with the envelope people to sharpen those things.

Posted by: Flautist | May 30, 2010 9:45:47 PM

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