A doctor finally explains the age-old question: Why do paper cuts hurt so much?
via Playful ZA / Twitter

This article was originally published by The Conversation. You can read it here.

Consider, for a moment, the paper cut. It happens suddenly and entirely unexpectedly, usually just as you are finally getting somewhere on that task you had been putting off.

Recall your sense of relief to finish that thank-you note to your aunt for the lovely sweater she sent you three months prior when, at the crucial moment, your hands failed you in their familiar task and the paper's edge slid past its restraints into the flesh.

Then pain – sharp, pure pain that bends your consciousness to the Only. Thing. That. Matters. Right. Now. There is sometimes a moment, between awareness and pain, when you bargain with fate, hoping that what just happened didn't. But the hand is gone and the blood needs tending.


Physically, paper cuts hurt as much as they do for a variety of reasons. They typically occur on parts of our bodies that are the most sensitive, such as the fingers, lips or tongue. The nerve networks of these body parts can discriminate with exceptional clarity and specificity, sensations of pressure, heat, cold and injury.

via Marco Verch / Flickr

Our brains even have specialized areas to receive signals coming from these parts in high definition. The exquisite sensing abilities that makes our fingers, lips and tongue so good at what they normally do, also makes injuries all the more painful.

These same highly sensitive areas are also parts we use all the time. Cuts on fingers, lips and the tongue tend to reopen throughout day dooming us to relive the pain again and again.

Finally, the depth of the wound is perfect for exposing and exciting the nerve fibers of the skin without damaging them the way a deeper, more destructive injury can severely damage the nerve fibers impairing their ability to communicate pain. With a paper cut, the nerve fibers are lit, and they are fully operational.

How to stop the ouch

As a family physician, I can recommend a few practical ways to minimize the discomfort of a paper cut. First, wash the cut as soon as you can with soap and water. This will reduce the chance of infection and help the wound heal quickly. Keep the wound clean, and if possible, for a few days cover it with a small bandage to cushion the wound and limit reopening.

While the physical effects of a paper cut are a real drag, I am fascinated by the mental and emotional response to the paper cut.

While both intentional self-injury (example: cutting) and major accidental injury (example: car accident with loss of limb or paralysis) have inspired important, ongoing research into their psychological effects, minor accidental injuries do not – and that is OK. There are more pressing issues in need of research than paper cuts.

But for a moment think back to the feelings you may have had about your paper cuts: surprise that the mundane act of licking an envelope could result in an injury (and so much blood!); shame that your body didn't coordinate such a simple task (why does this always happen to me?); anger for hurting yourself (arrrgh!); anxiety that it will happen again (I still have 200 more envelopes to go!). Paper cuts are trivial, but they may invoke a complex emotional response.

Paper cuts remind us that no matter how many times we have performed even a simple task we are capable of accidentally hurting ourselves. If that makes us a little more sympathetic to our neighbor's pains, and a little more humble, then maybe paper cuts do us some good too. Maybe.




That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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Summer Clayton is the father of 2.4 million kids and he couldn’t be more proud.

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Summer Clayton is the father of 2.4 million kids and he couldn’t be more proud. His TikTok channel is dedicated to giving people intimate conversations they might long to have with their own father, but can’t. The most popular is his “Dinner With Dad” segment.

The concept is simple: Clayton, aka Dad, always sets down two plates of food. He always tells you what’s for dinner. He always blesses the food. He always checks in with how you’re doing.

I stress the stability here, because as someone who grew up with a less-than-stable relationship with their parents, it stood out immediately. I found myself breathing a sigh of relief at Clayton’s consistency. I also noticed the immediate emotional connection created just by being asked, “How was your day?” According to relationship coach and couples counselor Don Olund, these two elements—stability and connection—are fundamental cravings that children have of their parents. Perhaps we never really stop needing it from them.


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How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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