Everyone carries a different tolerance for pain, and ardent tattoo enthusiasts tend to believe that pain is a small price to pay for a permanent piece of living, moving art.
However, one’s tattooing experience shouldn’t feel like torture, and it’s only natural to want to avoid certain areas in favor of comfort.
While fleshier regions of the body–such as the arms, upper back, shoulders, and thighs–are relatively low on the pain litmus, bonier areas can be more problematic for some. The elbows, spine, chest, knees, ankles, and feet are famously more prone to pain, with the sides of the torso also susceptible due to delicate nerve endings.
Where the skin is thinner and closer to the bone, the needle’s movements will reverberate at a more intense volume, resulting in potential discomfort. It’s typically recommended that one get their first tattoo in a pain-free zone to avoid a negative introduction to what is sure to be a lifetime passion.
You can also request that your tattoo artist take breaks throughout the procedure to allow you to catch your breath and rest from the adrenaline rush.
A tattoo is a lifetime commitment, and while memories of pain may fade by comparison, there’s no shame in wanting to spare one’s self any unnecessary duress. From start to completion, a tattoo is an experience to savor, rather than endure.
With that said, go ahead and explore the top 15 most painful places to get a tattoo below. You’ll discover where it hurts the worst, alongside where bone and nerve endings will plague you with plenty of pain!
Anyone who has ever bumped an elbow and experienced the fireworks of nerve pain down the entire arm knows this is a sensitive spot. Because there’s no protective muscle between the skin and bone here, the elbow ranks fairly high on the pain scale. Without any cushion between the needle and the bone, when getting the elbow tattooed, you’re going to feel the pain of the needle pressing into the bone, along with the sensation of the needle getting dragged across your skin. In addition, the vibrations trigger a response from the ulnar nerve—the one responsible for the pain that shoots down your entire arm when you hit your “funny bone.”
While the back is generally one of the less painful areas to get a tattoo, the spine is the exception. The spine is ultra-sensitive to begin with, so getting inked directly on it will produce a pretty intense level of pain for anyone on the receiving end of that needle.
Just like any other bony area of the body, getting a tattoo anywhere along the ribcage is not a whole lot of fun. While some people have described the pain as a sharp poke, others have likened it to being stabbed. In addition to the intense pain of the needle over the bone, the spaces in between cause a lot of discomfort, too. As the needle moves between the ribs, the vibration causes a combination of sensations that include an uncomfortable burning tickle. Its seriously no laughing matter!
The knee stands out as possible the most painful location to have inked. Regardless of whether you choose the outer kneecap area, or the soft, nerve-laden inside of the knee, you’re in for an experience as bad as either the elbow or the armpit.
With very little skin or muscle covering the kneecap, the pain of the needle vibration is pretty severe. The back of the knee is considered one of the most painful areas to have tattooed. It is comparable to the armpit, as far as sensitivity. In addition to the pain of having the knee tattooed, it can be a difficult area to heal properly, as it is difficult, if not impossible, to entirely mobilize the knee to allow the skin to heal.
Think about one of the more ticklish spots on most people’s bodies. While there is adequate padding over the bone the armpit is, literally, a bundle of nerves and anything done to that area produces all the feels. In the case of a needle inking the area, that translates into a good amount of pain. If you are someone who has a difficult time with being touched there (very ticklish), you’re going to have an unbearable time sitting through the vibrations produced by the needle.
Because this is another bony area of the body, it can be a very painful place to get a tattoo, though far from the worst.
In case you are wondering, there’s little difference between getting inked on the inside or outside of the ankle – both spots hurt a lot. However, the placement of the tattoo relative to the ball of the ankle bone will make all the difference as far as how much pain the procedure causes. A tattoo placed just above or below the protruding bone registers much lower down on the pain scale than one inked over the bone. Another thing to consider, is that the ankle can be rather painful for some and relatively pain free for others; it varies person to person.
While the chest is a common (and not terribly painful) spot for a tattoo, be aware that the sternum, located in the very center of the chest, can be a different story.
Pain from a tattoo on the sternum can vary, depending on how much “meat” you have covering the area. With its thin covering of skin and muscle over the bones, can be a pretty painful spot to have worked on, especially for thinner guys. If you’re considering a larger chest piece tattoo, it is recommended that the artist begin the work on the sternum and radiate outward, in order to get the worst pain over with first.
The inner arm (inside bicep) is not a particularly painful spot to get a tattoo.
There’s plenty of muscle and skin to shield the bone from painful contact and not many nerve endings centered there. As long as the tattoo artist keeps the needle from inching too close to the armpit or the inside of the elbow, getting a tattoo here is relatively easy, compared to other places. If your design covers the areas close to the armpit and inside elbow, though, be prepared for a world of pain. These are both extremely sensitive areas, with nerve endings that will shoot the pain far beyond the areas being worked on.
Getting a tattoo anywhere on your neck is no walk in the park, for sure. But, with this body part, the location really matters. The side of the neck has very little muscle or fat, and plenty of nerve endings, which makes for a lot of pain. In addition, our brain’s survival instinct means that having someone apply sustained pressure to an area needed for breathing can induce some pretty strong reactions. In comparison, the back of the neck is an easier place to get a tattoo. There’s more muscle and fat covering things there.
The pain level for a hand tattoo is similar to the foot in that it is mostly bone with very little skin covering it. This means it is fairly painful. The fingers and palm are also highly sensitive as they contain tons of nerve endings. One other thing to think about if this is a spot your considering getting done is this: hand tattoos, and especially finger tattoos, don’t always heal easily, and the quality of the art seems to degrade more quickly than on other areas.
If just the thought of getting inked in this area makes you cross your legs uncomfortably, congratulations! You have the right idea!
Remember what we’ve learned about places with lots of nerve endings? As you can imagine, getting a tattoo on the penis or testicles is not for the faint of heart. It is an almost tortuous experience, and definitely shouldn’t be the location you choose for your first tattoo. In addition to the pain involved, keep in mind that the healing process requires you to avoid getting the affected area wet for a couple of weeks, as water carries bacteria and increases the chances for an infection. Is this really an area you want to shortchange to when showering for too long?
This area is a doozy, as far as pain. The combination of some key nerve endings being located there, as well as just the thinnest layer of skin standing between the needle the cervical vertebrae located there makes this area super sensitive. A tattoo here is very painful.
Just like all the other bony areas in the body, the collarbone is a very painful location for a tattoo. The vibrations can also cause you to feel like you are actually getting your neck tattooed. Choosing to have your design place just above or below the most prominent point of the bone can help with making it slightly less painful.
Side of wrist
While a tattoo on the wrist, in general, registers as only average on the pain scale, the side of the wrist is a different story. The prominence of the bones to the surface skin there can make for a pretty excruciating experience for anyone getting inked. Similar to the ankle, the exact placement of a tattoo here can make a big difference as far as the level of pain involved.
With little muscle or skin to buffer the pressure of the needle, the head is an extremely painful location for a tattoo. In addition to the pain, the sensation of hearing the procedure taking place inches from your ear makes the whole process that much more unbearable.