This recently-published map of the most common injuries in every state had us thinking about common everyday injuries—seemingly minor things like bumping an elbow, stubbing a toe or even plucking a stray nose hair, all of which can rank weirdly high on the pain scale. But why do these little knocks hurt so much? Primary care physician Dr. Marc Leavey says it’s all about location, location, location.
Why Hitting Your Funny Bone Shocks
“There’s an exposed nerve—called the ulnar nerve—located in the groove of the elbow,” Leavey explains. “This nerve is totally unprotected, so it’s directly traumatized when we hit it. That causes a tingling sensation throughout the arm that feels a lot like an electric shock.” Interestingly enough, the ulnar nerve also provides feeling to the pinky finger, which is why the brunt of the shock may even be felt all the way down there when you bump your elbow.
Why Stubbing Your Toe (or Trapping Your Finger) Throbs
“The fingers have an enormous collection of nerves, since they need to be sensitive to touch [in order to use them to accomplish day-to-day tasks],” says Leavey. That large collection of nerves means any trauma that occurs to the area—like, say, a paper cut—is going to be felt tenfold. It works the same way with your toes: “You may not realize it, but you need to be able to feel your toes in order to walk, so there are a ton of sensory fibers within them to provide that information to your brain,” Leavey explains. That’s why, according to Scientific American, you would need to relearn your walking technique if you were to lose even just a single toe. Sensitive nerves in your toes are a very useful thing—until you slam one of them on the corner of the couch, that is.
Why Plucking Your Nose Hair Stings
The low pain tolerance of the inner nostril is mainly due to the fact that it’s not designed to be exposed to the environment the way the outside of the nose is. “The mucosa—that is, the lining of the nose—is an area of the face that is very well innervated [or, supplied with nerves],” Leavey says. “It’s also not designed to be traumatized, so any little trauma to that area is going to hurt like hell.” Worse yet, plucking nose hairs can occasionally be fatal, as you run the risk of an infection that may just make its way up to your brain. All in all, you’re better off putting down the tweezers and buying a trimmer.
Why Biting (or Burning) Your Tongue Pulses
Similar to fingers and toes, the tongue is packed with potentially pain-inducing nerves, and for a good reason, according to Leavey—namely, to help detect and transmit taste signals to the brain. While these nerves or usually a blessing (because food, duh), they can also be a literal pain if you accidentally chomp directly down onto them.
Why Being Hit in Your Balls Incapacitates
We’ve explored the complete science of being hit in the balls previously (and in excruciating detail, covering the agony, the nausea and the belly ache) but to summarize, it once again comes down to nerve location. “There are a lot of nerves in the testicles in order to regulate heat,” Leavey says, which are a vital part of keeping your sperm alive and well. The reason this specific pain often radiates outwards and into the stomach is because our testicles share the same pain receptors as our lower belly—the place they were initially formed before dropping into position during puberty.
Next time your buddy calls you a wimp for howling after stubbing your toe, you can feel better knowing you’ve got the science to explain it. Once you’ve stopped crying, that is.