Why did my thumb throb when injured?

10 February 2008



Today I cut myself with a pretty sharp knife. After I sat down for a minute I felt a pulsing pain in my thumb where I cut myself. I know I’ve felt that way before when it was hurt in waves so why is it not constant?


[This answer has now been updated to reflect more recent research findings.]

Historically, it was claimed that the throbbing nature of the pain occurred owing to arterial pulsations which produce repetitive wave sensations.

The argument went that inflammatory chemicals are produced in response to the injury as part of your body's defence to prevent infection to that wound. These chemicals stimulate sensory nerve endings including sensory receptors that are mechanically stimulated. So, as your artery throbs with the beat of your heart, that stimulates the sensitised nerve endings and you get this throbbing, drumming pain.

However, the claim did not stand up to scientific scrutiny by a team at the University of Florida, who measured simultaneously the rate of arterial pulsation and the perceived rate of pain throbbing in human volunteers with toothache.

According to their findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2012, "Contrary to the generally accepted view, which would predict a direct correspondence between the two, we found that the throbbing rate (44 bpm) was much slower than the arterial pulsation rate (73 bpm, p< 0.001), and that the two rhythms exhibited no underlying synchrony."

Instead, based on their findings, the team speculate that "...the throbbing quality is not a primary sensation but rather an emergent property, or perception, whose "pacemaker" lies within the CNS [central nervous system]."

In other words, the throbbin character of the pain sensation appears to arise within the brain's circuits itself, although at the moment no one knows how.

Reference: "Is There a Relationship between Throbbing Pain and Arterial Pulsations?" - DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0193-12.2012

[Our thanks to Rose Edwards for bringing this paper to our attention.]


Salt is a great remedy for throbbing pain. I found that out by a happy coincidence and now I use it on every injury: cuts, banged up body parts, burns etc. Just wrap the injury in wet salt (table salt is fine and a few drops of water help activate the salt), keep it wrapped (with the help of paper towel or a napkin or a clean cloth) for 20-30 min and you won't have throbbing or pain or blisters etc. It does help heal the injury better and faster.

I have long acrylic nails and a couple days ago I broke one but it tore my actual nail with it. There's no way I can get it off because it's still attached around the cuticle of my nail. I tried to take it off but I think that was a huge mistake, it caused my finger to throb more and I think it's starting to swell up. The pain only goes away if I ice but I can't do that forever so I have no clue what I'm gonna do now.

Go to the doctor. It needs to be removed and bandaged. You also might need antibiotics.

I cut my finger and now it won’t stop bleeding or throbbing. It’s a small cut but it hurts really bad. I don’t know if it is deep or not. Do I need stitches?

I cut the side of my finger over the weekend. It hurts like crazy to use it-however,I must. I thought I needed stitches too but did not go to the hospital. I keep it bandaged, clean and dry everyday. It still hurts and I am living with that. Anything with menthol will definitely kill the pain over time. Menthol is a life saver.

I cut my thumb a bit deeper and now it got joined but I still feel difficult to bend properly

I have a bit of a critique with that study. They used throbbing toothache pain as opposed to actual newly injured flesh, such as hitting your finger with a hammer or something. I have observed with my own toothache pain in the past that it does not seem to follow the heartbeat rhythm, but when I stub my toe or get a cut on my finger tip it does seem to respond with a throb directly following a heartbeat.

Same as when I have a throbbing headache. It does not seem to correspond to my heartbeat at all. Somehow that is different than the throbbing of other physical injuries.

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