Tattoos are painful, but it is often described as the kind of pain that is addicting…that is if you know the right places on your body to tattoo. Choose wrong and you are in for a world of pain, possibly regretting your decision and putting you off the idea of ever doing it again.
The point is tattoos are supposed to be painful. I mean there are several needles stabbing your skin multiple times per second. Where you choose to distribute the pain and how you deal with it is a different story.
Most Painful Spots and Why
You will hear varying opinions on tattoo pain from people; some may say that one area is particularly painful while others say that it was fine. Everyone has a different tolerance for pain and everyone’s body makeup is different (more fat/muscle vs. more skin/bone).
However, there are a few areas that are generally agreed upon as the most painful. Most are places where there is very little muscle, more bone, and more nerve endings.
We’ve all experienced the painful, numbing sensation that comes when you smash your elbow, hitting your “funny bone.” You are going to experience that constantly if you choose to get your elbow tattooed thanks to the needle vibrations repeatedly hitting the ulnar nerve.
Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that this one hurts. The back itself (including the shoulder blades) is not the most painful area to get a tattoo since there is usually quite a bit of meat there. However, very little muscle protecting the spine itself and with all the nerve endings located there, you may find yourself jumping a bit due to pain.
The ribcage is another area that doesn’t usually have a whole lot of meat around it; it’s basically just skin and bone. And when you’re lying on your side, the skin is taut and bones are more exposed making it even more painful (often described as a stabbing sensation).
Yet another area where there is mostly bone and nerves. The constant poking and vibration on your kneecap is often described as one of the most painful tattooing experiences. It is also a very difficult area to heal since you constantly bend your knees throughout the day, regardless of whether you are sitting or walking.
Obviously there is little to no muscles located on your head and there is a crazy number of nerve endings located in your scalp. It also feels like the needle is buzzing around in your skull as you hear and feel the needle vibrations mere inches from your ear and millimeters from bone. You also need to deal with hair maintenance as the tattoo heals (even the bald guys need to keep their heads shaved).
How to Deal with the Pain
Some people just tough it out. Even for my first – a 3-hour black and white job on my upper back (shoulder blade and spine area) – I just gritted my teeth and pushed through. It wasn’t easy, but it was better than the risks that come with painkillers.
It’s best not to take painkillers (Tylenol, Ibuprofen, etc.) before a tattoo appointment. Most painkillers also act as blood thinners (which is why you take aspirin if you are at risk for a heart attack), and tattooing draws blood. You could put yourself at risk for improper healing or excessive bleeding.
You also shouldn’t take any illicit substances that will dull your senses, whether they are legal or not (i.e. alcohol or marijuana). Any reputable tattoo shop will not allow you to sign consent for a tattoo appointment if you are under the influence.
If you feel your tolerance for pain is low, start with a small tattoo, short session, and low-pain location and work your way up if you feel you will be getting more in the future. Otherwise, bring someone with you or watch something to distract you from the pain while you push through.