Before getting my first tattoo it was pretty clear I had a slight case of needle phobia. My dislike for them was about the same as how I felt about seeing blood, disgusted.
Needless to say, becoming a doctor or even male nurse just wasn’t in my future back then.
Of course, things are quite different today. I owe a great deal of that change from staying committed when it came time to get finally tattooed.
Years ago I decided to get one of the most painful places on my body tattooed, the edges of my boney ribcage. If I could handle that, I could surely handle anywhere else on the body. Or at least that’s what I told myself at the time. As I sat in the chair, I watched the needle tear its way underneath my skin.
The stinging and burning wasn’t so bad; it was easier than I had first imagined. Then the needle started japing right into my bone up and down, over and over. Sh-t just got real. Of course, blood and plasma were oozing their way on out of my body too. Beautiful, indeed.
However, with every jab and sting I became more comfortable with the process. A few hours later my artist was finished. At the end of the day I left the shop with an entirely new outlook for tattoos. Everything I expected was quite different from the reality of actually getting a tattoo.
Sure, it was somewhat painful, though, it was more so just an annoying sensation overall. I didn’t pull out my hair, pass out, throw up, ball my eyes out, let alone die either. If anything I oddly enough, liked the process as much as I liked my new tattoo. When people ask if me if tattoos hurt, my response even today is still, “Yes, of course, but not as much as you’d first think.”
Since then I’ve done a lot of research over the years, all of which I’d like to share with you today. Below you’ll find a tattoo pain scale, exceptional advice, and plenty more. If you’re nervous about getting a tattoo and hubbub over pain has got you worried, the best advice I can ever give you is, “don’t be!”
Definitive Tattoo Pain Chart
I’ve put together an accurate tattoo pain chart for your viewing pleasure. While it might seem straightforward, there are still numerous things to consider before jumping to conclusions. All of which I’m going to explain to you in greater detail as you continue to read on.
Just remember, your personal pain tolerance and threshold are going to ultimately determine what hurts the most and least. Some areas sting and burn, others throb with heavy pressure.
Major nerves in the body
Here’s a breakdown of where nerves run throughout the human body. As you can see, there are a lot of areas which are prone to being sensitive when it comes to tattooing. While looking at this chart, just keep in mind the amount of muscle and skin that cover each area on the body.
How bad do tattoos hurt?
While it does depends on placement, things like your health, pain tolerance, attitude and state of mind are all factors too. The truth is, getting a tattoo is more of any annoyance than a painful experience. Yes, it hurts, no one likes a sharp needle prodding into their skin. However, a lot of people make a big ordeal out it when well, it’s really nothing to worry about in the first place.
For some spots on the body you might feel like wanting to tear your hair out. While others simply sting and burn a bit. Remember, people have different pain tolerances too. For instance, your friend might have told you their arm tattoo was agonizing. When you go to get the same place inked, it might seem like a cake walk.
At the end of day, there are a lot of factors to consider. Your tattoo artist could he really heavy handed or light and gentle. Even eating a breakfast or large meal before getting a tattoo can help lower your amount of pain. The underlying structure of nerves and bone, and the padding from all the fat and muscle play quite a large role too. I’ll explain this more below.
What does it feel like?
Truthfully, getting a tattoo will feel different across all parts of your body. Certain places are far easier to ink than others. Areas like the ribcage are bonier, while areas like your butt are far meatier. In other words, some places have a lot of cushion and other simply don’t. Which as you guessed it, affects the sensation you feel greatly. Of course, another to keep in mind, is where all the major nerves run through your body.
For meatier areas, it will feel like someone is dragging a needle across your skin, and let’s face it, they literally are. However, it’s not like getting a shot at the doctor. A tattoo needle doesn’t go as far into your skin. You can compare the sensation with getting scratched from an animal’s claw or getting stung by a bee to some degree. It certainly does sting a bit. Expect it to feel like a tiny, sharp needle is prodding into you over and over.
Most notably, you’re going to feel a burning sensation. Tattoo needles go up and down over and over again which creates a lot of vibration and heat. You might end up feeling the burning sensation more so than the stinging.
For bonier areas like the ribs for example, you will feel all of the above plus one more thing. As the needle hits near the bone it feel like you’re getting jabbed with a dull metal object. Press your fingertips into your rib cage really hard, that’s exactly what it feels like.
When it comes to major nerve endings, your sensitivity will increase. It will test your pain tolerance as the discomfort goes up and up.
The most painful tattoo spots
These are going to include any parts with the body with an abundance of bone and nerve endings. When it comes to nerves there are large clusters in places like your hands, throat, nipples, genitals, face, solar plexus, etc. For boney areas places like the ankles, hands and wrists, feet, spine, ribs, collarbone, kneecaps and elbows, etc are going to be quite painful.
The least painful place to get a tattoo
The same place where you probably don’t want a tattoo, your butt. Although, the tops of your thighs, calves, front arm, etc. have a lot of muscle too. Basically any area with a lot of cushion and lack of nerve endings and bone will result in the least painful experience for most. However, there is one thing to consider before jumping to conclusions here. Some people prefer deep throbbing pressure over higher levels of stinging sensations which comes from inking over muscle abundant areas.
Will getting a tattoo in this specific spot hurt?
Wrist: Not the worst. Generally, wrist tattoos are just plain old average on the pain scale. However, when it comes to sleeves and inking around the sides of the wrist things can start feeling pretty brutal.
Back: One of the least painful places depending on where you ink at. However, in another regard, these can be major annoyances. You know how getting a professional back massage feels so good? Now imagine, someone running a sharp needle all over it. Your back is already sensitive to begin with. Of course, this excludes ultra-sensitive areas like the spine for instance. For the upper back and shoulders you’ll notice the pain level jump the higher up you go.
Thigh: When it comes to the thigh tattoos there’s an abundance of flesh, however, they are still right above average on the pain chart for the upper area. You can compare them to calf tattoos.
As you move closer and closer towards the inner thighs the pain will greatly increase. This is especially true and far more noticeable as you work your way up to the groin area. Those areas are downright painful. Should you go downward towards the knee you’ll find it to be one of the most painful spots on the body.
Foot: Very painful. Remember, there’s a very small amount of skin covering up a large area of bone here. With every dip of the needle you’re going to feel it prodding at your bones.
Ribs: Another high pain area. Interestingly enough, inking the spaces in-between each rib bone feels like a mixture of being tickled, burned and poked with a sharp needle. However, when you cross over to the bones themselves, that’s where things get painful. You’ll feel the needle jabbing at your bone over and over again. It’s a mix of pain, burning, heavy pressure and oddly enough, a really annoying tickling sensation.
Chest: Generally average until you move towards the collarbone and sternum. In terms of being on the pain scale, the sternum won’t make you tap out, however, you will be glancing your fist in some serious pain. You can compare it to the elbow and knees. Another part of the chest to consider is the nipple area. Some gentlemen face extremely high sensitivity in that area, others simply don’t.
Inner Elbow: Without a doubt, one of the most painful spots on the body. Worse than the already excruciating outer elbow tattoo.
Collarbone: Very painful. Interestingly enough, while getting a tattoo on your collarbone it might feel like you’re actually getting one on the neck with all the vibration going on.
Calves: Often a cake walk; average.
Forearm and front arm: Considerably average and comfortable to tattoo without any concern.
Genitals: Extremely painful.
Throat: One of the worst places to get a tattoo when it comes to pain.
Hands: Just like the foot, there’s a lot of bone and not enough skin covering it. Hand tattoos are as just difficult to get artists to do as they are to have inked while sitting in the chair. The same is true for the fingers as well.
Ankle: When it comes to ankle tattoos, it’s a tossup between average and terribly awful. Based on the bone-y location you can still expect a lot of pain regardless of your tolerance.
Head: Extremely painful and made even worse by the fact that you can hear the entire process happening just inches away from your ear.
Inner Bicep: Average until you move up towards the armpit. The armpit is in a world of its own; needless to say, it’s extremely painful.
Spine: High pain.
Hip: Certainly far above average. Remember, just like the ribs there’s a lot of bone here.
Behind the ear: High pain.
Shoulder: High on the pain scale, however, for some it’s slightly above average.
Stomach: Very bearable with some places above average and others below it.
Back of the neck: High level of pain.
Lip: Difficult to ink let alone, highly uncomfortable to get.
Shin: Often tender with a high level of pain on the scale. Varies man to man. Some have shins of iron others don’t.
Upper Arm: Considerably average.
Palm: High pain and very difficult if not impossible to ink. Considering how much the palm is used on the daily basis it’s easy to expect fading and wear. Even people who have tattoos on their entire body will leave this area as is, because the effort generally isn’t always worth it.
Knee: As bad as the elbow and armpit. Easily, one of most painful spots to get inked. Both the outer knee cap and inside areas will be extreme.
Remember pain levels vary greatly for each and every person. Don’t get discouraged if one place has a reputation for being associated with extreme pain. What hurts for someone else may very well end up not hurting you a single bit. In other words, not all bodies have the same sensitivity nor pain tolerance.
If you really want a tattoo in a specific spot go for it!
The pain doesn’t last forever, but the cool ink you get does.
Consider incorporating the discomfort of being in the chair into the meaning of your tattoo. If you care about something so deeply, show a little sacrifice; it will certainly be worth it in the end.