The Real Reason Paper Cuts Are So Painful

Why is it that a paper cut less than an inch long can cause so much pain? For such shallow wounds, paper cuts bleed a lot, too. While the pain and the bleeding might defy logic for something so small, it all makes sense, according to science.

It turns out that your hands and fingers are packed full of sensitivity and blood vessels. Your hands and fingers actually have a higher density of nerve endings than many parts of the body (via Healthline). In fact, one study that mapped the body's ability to perceive pain and the sense of touch found that the fingertips ranked the highest (via the Annals of Neurology).

But not only are fingertips sensitive, but they're also crowded with capillaries, or tiny blood vessels. So a paper cut — or any wound affecting your fingers, such as a torn cuticle — really smarts and bleeds because it affects a larger number of nerves and blood vessels. 

Some conditions might make a paper cut more painful

Of course, if you have a condition that heightens your sensitivity to pain, such as fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, or nerve damage (neuropathy), a paper cut will feel extra sore. Likewise, if you take blood thinners or a similar medication that works to prevent blood clots from forming, you might need to apply direct pressure to the cut for about 15 minutes or use an over-the-counter styptic powder to stop the bleeding (via Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan).

A paper cut should heal within two to three days without medical treatment. However, if you have a condition that slows your body's ability to heal, such as immunodeficiency or diabetes, contact your doctor if you're still dealing with it after several days.

Otherwise, wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you notice the cut, then apply a topical antibiotic ointment and a small bandage, which keeps the cut from reopening and protects it from bacteria on other surfaces, such as a keyboard. Reduce the chance of getting a paper cut by moisturizing your hands, especially in cold or dry weather, and wearing gloves if you're handling a lot of paper.