Where does a tattoo hurt the most?

Getting a tattoo can be an exciting experience, but it can also be quite painful. The level of pain felt during tattooing depends on several factors, including the location of the tattoo on the body. Some areas are more sensitive and have fewer fat and muscle tissues cushioning the area, making the sensation of the tattoo needle more intense. Generally, areas over bone or with many nerve endings tend to hurt more. Tattoo pain also depends on personal pain tolerance.

Quick Answers

The most painful places to get a tattoo include:

  • Ribs
  • Inner elbow
  • Ankles
  • Knees
  • Neck
  • Face
  • Head
  • Chest
  • Hips
  • Groin area

Areas with fewer pain receptors and more padding, like the arms or thighs, tend to hurt less.

What Makes a Tattoo Painful?

Several factors contribute to tattoo pain:

Location on the Body

Where the tattoo needle is piercing the skin factors greatly into the pain level. Areas closer to bone, with little muscle or fat cushioning, generally hurt more. These include:

  • Ribs
  • Hips
  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Ankles
  • Neck

Areas with nerve endings, like the hands and feet, are also more sensitive.

Amount of Muscle and Fat Tissue

Muscles and fatty tissues provide padding between the tattoo needle and nerves/bone. Areas with lots of muscle and fat, like arms, legs, and back, typically hurt less than bonier areas.

Nerve Endings

Some parts of the body are packed with nerve endings that make tattoos more painful. This includes hands, feet, and neck. Areas along the spine also tend to be quite sensitive.

Skin Thickness

Thinner skin tends to feel tattoos more intensely. The face, ears, feet, chest, and groin area have thinner skin.

Healing Time

After the tattoo session, some locations heal slower than others. Areas that see a lot of movement and bending, like joints, may take longer to heal and be more irritable.

Most Painful Places for Tattoos

Based on the above factors, here are the most painful spots to get inked:


The rib area is bony, with little fat or muscle to cushion between the skin and bones. This area is densely packed with nerve endings. The constant movement with breathing also adds to the discomfort.

Inner Elbow

The inner elbow has thin skin and directly sits atop the bony joint. It also has many nerve endings present.

Ankles and Knees

Ankles and knees sit close to the bone, with little padding or tissue coverage. They are also areas that see a lot of movement and bending.


The nape of the neck has many nerve endings and very thin, delicate skin. Areas along the cervical spine tend to be quite sensitive as well.


Facial tattoos hurt due to the large number of nerve endings and thin delicate skin of the face. Areas like the forehead, near the eyes, and lips are particularly sensitive.


Areas on the head, like the scalp, ears, and head, have thin skin over the bone and are packed with nerves. This amplifies pain.


While the upper chest has some padding, tattoos over the rib cage will be very painful due to the closeness of the bone. The lower chest near the solar plexus also has many nerve endings.


The protruding hip bones mean very little cushioning for tattoos in this area. It is also an area that bends frequently during movement.

Groin Area

This area is extra sensitive due to the many nerves present and thinner, delicate skin. Intimate tattoos are usually quite painful.

Least Painful Places for Tattoos

In contrast, some parts of the body are known to produce less tattoo pain:

Outer Arms

The outer arms have thicker skin and a good amount of padding over the muscle and bone. This helps dampen the sensation.


The thighs also have thicker skin and a generous amount of fat and muscle covering the leg bones. Areas like the outer or upper thighs hurt less.


Buttocks and upper hips provide padding that creates some distance between the tattoo needle and bony pelvis. They are fleshier areas.


The calf area is meatier and muscular. While tattoos low on the calf closer to the ankle bone may get sensitive, higher up near the knee is less painful.

Shoulder Blades

Shoulder blades have good padding over the bone, which helps minimize discomfort. The top of the back and shoulder areas tend to be less painful for tattoos.


While the inner forearm is sensitive, the outer forearm has thicker skin and more cushioning to absorb the sensations.

Pain Tolerance Varies by Individual

Keep in mind that everyone experiences pain differently based on their own tolerance levels. Some people may breeze through a rib tattoo, while others may find a small forearm tattoo highly uncomfortable. Pain receptors also vary individually. Factors like age, gender, and health conditions may also impact one’s pain perception.

Ways to Manage Tattoo Pain

There are some tricks to make the tattoo process more bearable:

  • Eat before getting tattooed to stabilize blood sugar
  • Hydrate well beforehand
  • Use numbing cream on the area beforehand
  • Take deep breaths during the tattoo
  • Listen to music to provide distraction
  • Talk to the artist during the session
  • Get a small tattoo first to test pain tolerance
  • Avoid alcohol or caffeine before tattooing
  • Rest well afterwards to help healing

Pain Levels by Tattoo Location

Here is an overview of the general pain levels experienced in popular tattoo areas, from least to most painful:

Tattoo Location Pain Level
Outer arms 2/10
Outer thighs 2/10
Calves 3/10
Forearms 4/10
Shoulder blades 5/10
Chest 6/10
Hips 7/10
Knees 7/10
Ankles 8/10
Neck 8/10
Ribs 9/10
Groin 9/10
Face 10/10

Picking the Right Tattoo Artist

An experienced tattoo artist can help make the process smoother and less painful. Look for the following:

  • Checked portfolio and tattoo style
  • Strong reputation with positive reviews
  • Professional, clean studio
  • Good listener to understand your vision
  • Willing to discuss pain management
  • Gentle technique and bedside manner

Connecting with the right tattoo artist for you can optimize comfort. Be sure to communicate your concerns and pain tolerance.

Preparing for Tattoo Pain

These tips can help you ready for tattoo discomfort:

  • Sleep well the nights before
  • Avoid alcohol or drugs beforehand
  • Eat a good meal beforehand
  • Stay hydrated with water
  • Wear comfortable clothing
  • Use numbing cream on the area
  • Bring music to listen to
  • Have glucose tablets if needed
  • Practice breathing exercises
  • Discuss concerns with your artist

Being well-rested, fed, and hydrated will place you in the best mindset to handle the tattooing process.

What to Expect During the Tattoo

Here’s an overview of the tattoo process:

  • The artist will clean and shave the area
  • A stencil will be applied to transfer the design
  • Needles are inserted into the tattoo gun filled with ink
  • As the needle moves rapidly in and out of the skin, it deposits ink into the dermis layer
  • The artist will periodically wipe away excess ink and blood
  • Petroleum jelly or healing ointment is applied once finished
  • A bandage is placed over the new tattoo

During the session, focus on your breathing, talk to the artist, listen to music, or visualize something calming. If you need a break, speak up. Getting a tattoo is not a rushed process. Communicate your needs clearly.

Caring for a New Tattoo

Proper aftercare is vital for healing:

  • Leave bandage on for 2-3 hours then remove gently
  • Wash tattoo gently with antimicrobial soap and water
  • Pat dry with clean paper towel
  • Apply a thin layer of healing ointment
  • Repeat cleansing twice daily
  • Avoid submerging in water like baths or pools
  • No picking or scratching scabs
  • Wear loose, breathable clothing over tattoo
  • Avoid direct sun exposure
  • Expect peeling, itching, and mild irritation as part of healing

Proper aftercare keeps the tattoo clean and moisturized. Let the artist know if any severe swelling, oozing, or redness occurs.

How Long Does Tattoo Pain Last?

Tattoo pain duration depends on size and location, but here’s a general timeline:

  • During session: The pain is continuous but fluctuates as the artist works. It usually feels worst at start.
  • Immediately after: Throbbing, achy pain right after tattooing is common.
  • Days 1-3: Severe pain, swelling, and sensitivity is highest during the initial healing. Pain is worse if dressing is removed.
  • Days 4-7: Discomfort becomes more mild. Swelling goes down. Itching starts.
  • Week 2: Peeling occurs. Tattoo looks faded. Mild sensitivity remains.
  • Week 3: Tattoo finishes initial healing. Pain is minimal.

With proper aftercare, the worst pain subsides after about 1 week. Do not pick scabs as this causes more pain. See your artist if concerns arise.

Tattoo Pain Management Techniques

Below are some proven methods to better cope with tattoo discomfort:

Numbing Cream

Apply a topical anesthetic like lidocaine cream over the area beforehand. This helps numb surface pain receptors. Cover with plastic wrap and allow cream to soak in 30-60 minutes. Numbing lasts 2-3 hours.

Breathe Deeply

Practice deep, focused breathing during the session. Inhale deep through the nose, exhale slowly from the mouth. This promotes relaxation.


Do activities to take your mind off the discomfort. Talk to the artist or listen to music. Visualize a peaceful scene or happy memory.

Comfortable Position

Sit or lay in a position that causes no strain or tension. Muscle strain makes pain worse.

Hydrate and Eat

Drink water before and after. Have a healthy meal beforehand for energy. Bring snacks and glucose tablets in case you feel lightheaded.

Rest Afterwards

Choosing to get tattooed on a day off work allows proper rest and recovery. The body heals best when well-rested.

Loose Clothing

Wear loose, breathable clothing over the new tattoo instead of restrictive materials that cause friction.

OTC Pain Relievers

Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can ease pain, swelling, and inflammation if tattooing was very uncomfortable. Avoid aspirin as it thins the blood.

How to Minimize First Tattoo Pain

Those getting their first tattoo can use these tips:

  • Start with a smaller, less painful area like arms or shoulders
  • Discuss pain tolerance honestly with your artist
  • Use numbing cream beforehand for the first time
  • Eat a filling meal before arriving
  • Bring music, snacks, and distractions
  • Have someone accompany you for morale support
  • Arrange proper aftercare and recovery time
  • Ask for breaks as needed during the session
  • Do not look at the needle, talk to your artist instead
  • Use breathing techniques to stay calm

Starting with a manageable first tattoo helps build confidence for more intricate future tattoos.


While individual experiences vary, tattoo pain is most intense over bony, muscular, and highly sensitive areas of the body. The ribs, elbows, ankles, neck, face, and groin generally rate among the most painful for ink. Areas with generous fat and muscle padding, like the arms, thighs, or shoulders, tend to produce less discomfort. Proper preparation, an experienced artist, numbing cream, distractions, and excellent aftercare help make tattooing more tolerable. With some knowledge of what to expect, you can get body art you love with less trauma.

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