Pinch your arm. Hold it for a few seconds.
Now pinch anywhere on your chest. Now your leg. Your wrist.
Notice any difference? You might find that certain areas of your body hurt more than others. Or maybe you felt little difference at all. That’s the funny thing about pain: it’s all relative. It all depends on the situation, our habits, and our predisposition to tolerance. Although we all address pain differently, one thing’s for certain:
Tattoos are bloody painful.
Whether it’s a scratching pain like a cat ripping your skin off, or a persistent numbing feeling, there is always some level of pain involved for tattoos of any size. Fortunately, pain can be managed. Keep scrolling to learn about the most and least painful spots to get a tattoo.
Exploring Pain Thresholds
Scientific research is ongoing in the neuroscience of pain. At present, those who are biologically female have a much higher, less reactive pain threshold than males. This is mostly due to the hormonal differences between male and female groups. More research is needed to determine how gender could also influence pain sensitivity.
Since pain is quite relative, pain charts can be mostly anecdotal. They rely on the feedback given from client to artist. Yet given the rich, worldwide history of tattoo art, the feedback spans over centuries. Millions of tattoos later, we have quite an accurate representation of what pain feels like across the spectrum, even if neuroscience is still trying to catch up.
Most Painful Spots
What do you get when you combine thin skin, little fat, and all bone? Vibrations, really painful vibrations.
The rib cage is one of the most painful places to get a tattoo. There is very little flesh cushion to absorb the constant penetration, which only gets more intense with every breath. Each inhalation moves your rib cage—and the skin above it—further into the needle. We’re getting pain just describing it.
An unofficial erogenous zone, the neck is quite sensitive to any level of touch. Now try sticking a needle into it thousands of times. Ouch. If you’re new to tattooing, don’t start here.
Ankles & Shins
Another not so great combination of thin dermal membrane and proximity to bone. Some think the pain is on par with a rib cage tattoo. Although these tattoos look stunning, try to minimise bone contact for a more “enjoyable” experience.
Behind Knee, Knee, Elbow
The skin behind the knee is loose. Fat content is minimal. And the number of nerve endings here? Too many. Avoid this area if you haven’t made friends with pain yet.
Kneecaps and elbows are equally as painful.
This goes without saying, sensitive parts are filled with nerve endings. More nerve endings = a lot more pain. We wouldn’t recommend going near your groin or any other erogenous zones. Some artists won’t even do tattoos in these areas.
Surprisingly, the armpit produces the most severe tattoo pain. It is so painful that most artists will advise you not to do it. A challenge we definitely aren’t up for.
Besides, do you want your tattoo to stay hidden forever?
Bony, thin-skinned hands, feet, fingers, and toes. Although slightly more bearable than the rest on this list, extremities are places to be avoided for those with lower pain thresholds. Expect a persistent, throbbing vibration to accompany the pain you’re already experiencing.
Least Painful Spots
For a first-timer, this is usually the ideal place to get tattooed. The skin is thick, and there’s plenty of muscle to absorb the constant skin punctures. Start here!
Another great spot for newer enthusiasts. Plenty of skin layers, muscle, and fewer nerve endings. Start small, and grow your collection into a half sleeve over time.
Although the spine can be a very painful spot to get inked, the upper back meets our low pain criteria. As long as you stay away from the bones in the spine, there are fewer chances of running into nerve groupings. Skin is tough, and muscle groups aplenty.
With plenty of fleshy cushion between skin and bone, the outer leg is another prime spot for minimal pain. Avoid the inner thigh and you’ll be smooth sailing in the chair.
Scratching is the most commonly reported pain among tattoo enthusiasts. Not too intense, but the sensation can become painful over extended periods. If you weren’t looking at what the artist was doing, you’d think a cat was gently clawing away at your skin.
When an artist is shading, or continuously touching up the same spot, you may experience burning. Burning feels like the sensation you get when huddled around an open flame. If you get too close, you can feel the heat on your skin. But at a certain distance, it’s bearable for a brief moment. That’s what burning feels like, only localised to the affected area.
Could we get our minds to play a trick on ourselves? In fact, we can. For some regulars, just the thought of hearing the machine turn on puts the body in a temporary state of stress. Adrenaline works as a natural numbing agent. These moments of reduced pain are often identified as background or dull pain moments.
To ride this wave longer, try distracting yourself with a conversation, music, or another low-pressure activity.
Understanding Tattoo Pain
If you felt no pain variance during the pinch exercise, try asking a friend to do it for you. Keep your eyes closed and allow them to pinch you at random. Noticing a difference now?
Our minds have an interesting way of dealing with pain depending on the circumstance. When situations are out of our hands we could subconsciously amplify our perception of pain as a form of defence. This response could be the reason why tattoos are universally painful (outside of a needle poking your skin 1000s of times).
Next time you’re in the chair, relax and reflect on how temporary this moment is. Before you know it, you’ll have a complete piece of art permanently etched into your skin.Visit the rest of our blog for more tattoo guides and resources. If you have a day-long session coming up soon, our numbing creams will help you power through it.