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Name: Robert E
Status: other
Age: 30s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2002028

Why does getting shocked by electricity hurt?

All of your cells, nerve cells included, have a small electrical potential (called a membrane potential) across the cell membrane. Different concentrations of key ions, in particular K+, Cl-, and Na+, are present in different amounts inside the cell versus outside the cell, due to the action of "pumps" and special passageways in the membrane. This sets up a small voltage of between -20 mV to -200 mV, depending on the organism and cell type. At "typical" membrane potential is about -70mV, with the inside of the cell having a slightly more negative charge as compared to outside. While the above applies to all cells, nerve cells have a set of highly adapted gates and passageways in their membranes, which allow ions to rapidly flow in or out when a nerve cell is stimulated. As the nerve is stimulated, the membrane potential will briefly swing from -70 mV to about +50 mV; thus a difference in the electrical properties of the membrane is the key to how a nerve normally "works." When you add an external source of electricity, you are drastically affecting the membrane potential of cells, in other words, you are stimulating the nerve cells wildly, and you detect their stimulation as pain.

Paul Mahoney

Because it is bad for you. Your entire nervous system runs on very low voltage and reacts very badly to any insults of outside electrical activity.

Peter Faletra Ph.D.
Assistant Director
Science Education
Office of Science
Department of Energy

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