It could happen to anyone, really. A soon-to-be married couple named Ian and Annelise finishing what seems like the 1000th wedding invitation of the weekend. An adventurer named Benjamin who’s just trying to steal the Declaration of Independence. A waiter named Dave who is always a little bit too enthusiastic about pulling the guest check out of the receipt printer. A searing phalange-sourced pain shoots right to each person’s brain thanks to the bane of every paper-handler’s existence: a paper cut.
How could something so seemingly harmless cause so much pain? Why, when the laceration is so seemingly minuscule, is the pain so intense? Well, science has an answer those who have suffered from the standard stationary slice, as reported by Science Alert.
Part of the problem stems from one of the primary purposes of your digits, feeling. Fingertips are especially evolutionarily designed to take in the sensation of touch using high concentrations of nerve endings, and in turn, pain receptors.
Fingertips are how we explore the world, how we do small delicate tasks,” says Hayley Goldbach a dermatologist at UCLA, via BBC. “So it makes sense that we have a lot of nerve endings there. It’s kind of a safety mechanism.”
In fact, your fingertips have the highest concentration of pain receptors (called nociceptors) in the entire human body. The quicker and more intense the signal sent to the brain, quicker and more intense the response, just ask anyone who has tried to bare-hand a scalding hot cast iron pan.
Additionally, the paper plays a key, double-edged role in making the micro-gash so sustainably stinging. First, paper is pressed from pulp particles which leave the edges looking like a regular jagged mountain range of danger which leaves behind a cut which is irregular and jagged, as opposed to the precise slice that is left by a scalpel. Second, the frequently shallow cut itself doesn’t quite go deep enough to allow the body to properly clot, but just deep enough to set off the nociceptors, so the cut takes longer to initially mend, leaving you writhing in anguish way longer than you would suspect.
Remember, anyone is susceptible to paper cuts until every office in America switches to the environmentally-friendly Etch A Sketch. If this wound happens to you, remember to buddy tape your fingers or use this Band-Aid hack if it lands in an awkward spot.
This article first appeared on Reader’s Digest.