Science Explains Why It Hurts So Much to Step on a Piece of Lego

March 8, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

Stepping on LEGO
Photo credit: Frédérique Voisin-Demery/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Pain you wouldn’t even wish on your worst enemy!

If you’ve ever had children in your house, you’ve probably experienced the extreme pain that comes with stepping on a piece of Lego. It always seems to hurt way more than stepping on any other object, but why is that?

The American Chemical Society reveals that it has to do with pain receptors, neurotransmitters, the material the bricks are made of, and their size.

SEE ALSO: Who Tolerates Pain Best: Men or Women?

Lego bricks are made out of ABS plastic, a polymer composed of three monomers: acrylonitrile to make them strong, 1,3-butadiene to make them resistant, and styrene to make them shiny.

According to the BBC, a single brick is so strong, it will support the weight of 375.000 other bricks, or 950 pounds (432 kilograms) before it will crack. To put that in perspective, the tower would stretch 2.17 miles (3.5 kilometers) high.

So Lego won’t break under your weight, and instead it pushes its way up into your foot. The bottom of your foot has up to 200,000 sensory receptors, and when you step on a piece of Lego, because the brick is so small compared to your foot, you exert about 3 million pascals of pressure at the point of contact.

Nociceptors — from the Latin word nocer meaning “to hurt” — are sensory cells that are sensitive to painful stimuli and are attached to nerve fibers. There are two types of pain-sensing nerve fibers in your skin that carry information — C fibers that deal with slow, dull, and lingering pain, and A-delta fibers that deal with sharp, acute and piercing pain. The A-delta fibers are the ones in play in the case of Lego stomping. They send an electrical signal up to your brain to alert you of the pain. This is done through chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Interestingly, even before your brain has a chance to recognize that you are in pain, your spinal cord is informed and tells your motor neurons to move your foot away. This is similar to what happens if you put your hand on something hot, like a stovetop burner, and wrench it away before you even realize how hot it is.

Next time you inadvertently step on a piece of Lego, it won’t hurt any less, but at least you’ll know the science behind where the pain is coming from. Watch the explanatory video by the American Chemical Society below.


Read next: Can Pain Kill You?

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