Getting a tattoo is often described as being painful, but just how much it hurts can vary greatly depending on the location of the tattoo on your body. Some parts of the body are much more sensitive than others, and will therefore be more painful to tattoo. So which part of the body generally hurts the most when getting inked?
The Most Painful Places to Get a Tattoo
While pain tolerance levels vary from person to person, there are some tattoo locations that are widely considered to be more painful than others. Here are some of the most painful places to get a tattoo:
The ribs are commonly cited as the most painful place to get a tattoo. This is because the skin over the ribs is very thin, with little muscle and fat between the skin and bone. The ribs also move as you breathe, which can make it more uncomfortable.
The inner elbow is another very sensitive spot. Like the ribs, it has thin skin over bone and not much cushioning. Hitting your funny bone can be very painful, so it’s not surprising that tattooing over the ulnar nerve on the inner elbow is also excruciating for many people.
Ankles can be a painful place to get tattooed. There is very little fat padding over the ankle bones, plus it is an area that tends to swell up when injured. The constant movement of the joint while the tattoo is being done can add to the discomfort.
Feet have delicate skin and not much natural padding, plus the bones are very close to the surface. They are also ticklish and sensitive to touch for most people, making them one of the more painful places to get tattooed.
Knees can be quite bony and sensitive without much fat for padding, and the constant bending of the joint makes it more difficult for the tattoo artist to work. The pain levels reported for knee tattoos are often surprisingly high.
The sternum or breastbone is close to the skin surface and has very little cushioning from muscle or fat. Laying flat to tattoo this bony and central area can also feel constricting and uncomfortable.
Spine tattoos that run down the back along the vertebrae are notoriously painful. This is often considered one of the most painful spots to get tattooed because the spine has thin skin covering bones with nerves very close to the surface.
Shoulder blade tattoos cover a bony area with little fat or muscle padding, which can make it quite painful. The shoulders also tend to involuntarily twitch in response to pain, making it harder to hold still.
The hip and pelvic region has many nerves close to the surface, with little cushioning over the bone. Sitting still for a hip or pelvic tattoo can also feel awkward and restrictive.
Least Painful Places to Get a Tattoo
While the above locations tend to be the most painful for the majority, there are also places that are generally reported as less painful for tattooing. Here are some of the least painful places to get inked:
The upper outer arms and shoulders tend to be well padded with muscle and fat, making this region less painful for most people. The skin is thicker than other body areas as well.
The thighs offer a large canvas for tattoos, with ample padding over the muscle and bone. Areas like the upper outer thigh in particular tend to be less painful for tattoos.
The calf muscle provides cushioning during tattooing on the lower leg. Areas towards the outer calf tend to be reported as less painful than inner calf or shin tattoos.
Buttocks have thick skin as well as a lot of fat padding across the area, making them one of the least painful spots to get a tattoo. The fleshy upper buttocks in particular is well suited for larger tattoos.
While the inner elbow is very sensitive, the rest of the forearm can handle tattooing much better. The skin is thicker than many other body parts, and when properly positioned there is adequate muscle support.
Factors That Can Increase or Decrease Pain
Where you get your tattoo is just one factor when it comes to how much pain you will experience. Here are some other elements that come into play:
Your Individual Pain Tolerance
Everyone has a different threshold and tolerance for pain. If you generally have a low pain tolerance, getting inked anywhere is likely to hurt more. The more sensitive your skin and nerves, the more a tattoo may sting.
Tattoo Size and Duration
Larger, more complex tattoos take longer sessions to complete. The prolonged exposure to the tattoo needle is naturally going to increase pain and irritation to the skin, regardless of placement.
Some tattoo styles require deeper penetration into the skin layers, such as a traditional tattoo with bold outlines. This needle depth increases pain compared to delicatemicro tattoos that only penetrate the top layers lightly.
Your Menstrual Cycle
Women report increased sensitivity during parts of their menstrual cycles, especially right before their period starts. Avoid getting tattooed during times when cramping and discomfort is already elevated.
Certain over-the-counter pain medications can potentially help decrease discomfort during tattoo sessions. However, some blood thinners and medications that affect bleeding may need to be avoided beforehand.
Eating and Hydration
Being properly fed and hydrated before a long session can help boost your energy, strength, and pain tolerance. Low blood sugar or dehydration may exacerbate discomfort.
Your mental approach and attitude plays a role in how your body responds to pain. Working to stay calm and relaxed with deep breathing can help minimize discomfort.
Artist Skill Level
The speed, precision, technique and experience of your tattoo artist can influence the amount of pain experienced. A very light, quick hand or a slow, heavy-handed approach makes a difference.
Type of Ink Colors Used
Certain pigments appear to irritate the skin more during application. Colors like white and red are reported by some to be more painful than black or blue ink.
Tips to Minimize Tattoo Pain
If you are concerned about tattoo pain, here are some tips that may help:
- Choose an area of the body with thick skin and cushioning fat or muscle.
- Avoid bony prominences like ribs, elbows, ankles, etc if highly sensitive.
- Start with a smaller tattoo to gauge your own pain tolerance.
- Stay hydrated and eat a meal rich in protein and complex carbs beforehand.
- Take an over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen an hour beforehand.
- Time your tattoo between menstrual periods if you experience cramps.
- Apply a topical ointment afterward to soothe soreness and irritation.
- Work on relaxing during the session with slow breathing techniques.
- Focus your mind elsewhere and avoid tensing your muscles.
Where you get tattooed plays a major role in the level of discomfort, with bony prominences like the ribs, ankles and elbows being most likely to hurt. However, each person experiences pain differently based on individual factors like pain tolerance, hydration, mindset, and more. If concerned about sensitivity, focus on well-padded areas and use techniques to minimize and manage discomfort.