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July 31, 2020

BehindTheMedspeak: Why are paper cuts so painful?


From Wikipedia:

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 who stand on blades.

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.

July 31, 2020 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


I remember when I at six years of age was rather fascinated by paper cuts. I had, being an avid crafter, in the course of my at the time short span of life been the victim of countless of nasty paper cuts, but it had been a while, and I was curious about them. I decided to give myself one, but it proved harder than I expected, whether it was the pressure, the angle, or the paper itself to be blamed. At last however I found the Ultimate Recipe For A Nasty Paper Cut™: I fanned my hand, and placed an upright sheet of paper on the stretched skin between my thumb and index finger. I then, using only the sheet's inherent weight for pressure, slid it over the stretched skin. Oh boy did it cut. The pain.

I had to keep my thunb basically glued to the side of my hand for the following week.

Posted by: Pippi | Jul 31, 2020 4:30:59 PM

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