I have a lot of tattoos, including full sleeves on both arms. The tattoos on my elbows were the most painful by far.
Oh the elbow tattoo... of all the places I've been tattooed, this was the most painful by far. I liken it to having fire ants eat my flesh from the inside out. Only diehard ink aficionados or crazy people get their elbows tattooed.
I wish I could say that I was hardcore and took it like a trooper, but I came pretty close to passing out more than once. In my defense, I hadn’t planned on getting my elbow tattooed. I was going for a swirl of leaves around my elbow, and my tattoo artist talked me into putting one on the tip. Seeing as I’ve had the tops of both of my feet done, as well as my inner forearms close to the ditch, he figured I could handle it. So wrong. That leaf now goes by the nickname “little burny,” cause that’s what she felt like.
So if you’re crazy enough to do the tip, here are a few rockin’ designs and important tips to help you get through the Armageddon of pain that you’ll be visiting upon yourself.
The Coolest Elbow Tattoos
If you're thinking of getting your elbow inked, you'd better make sure the design is awesome. Here are a few ideas to inspire you.
The Spider Web
The spider web on the elbow is the all-time classic in the world of tattoos. Once relegated to prison inmates and gang members, it has gone more mainstream now and can be prettied up with ladybugs, dragonflies, caterpillars and, of course, a kickass spider.
The best tattoos for this area take into account the circular shape of this body part. And because it’s on a joint, the right design can look like it's moving with your body. Cool! I have seen some truly extraordinary tattoos of crashing waves with dancing fish that were so beautiful they have almost convinced me to get my other elbow done... almost.
As always, be aware that if you go the colour route, you are going to need to take some extra care of your inky creation and either avoid the sun, wear a lot of sunscreen and long shirts or accept the fade and revisit the needle every few years. I, for one, will be slathering myself in sunscreen to avoid the needle at all costs.
Some people choose to cover their entire elbow with an intricate design like a flower, which I give them mad props for because it must be a hell like none I can possibly imagine. Something with a prominent centre like a daisy or sunflower would work well on an elbow, using the tip of the elbow as the centre of the flower.
I’m sure you have seen at least one of these before, someone who has cleverly placed an animal’s or demon's face with its open mouth on the tip of their elbow. Although I am not a huge fan of novelty tattoos like this, I can see the comedic value in it. I just think I would get pretty tired of people asking me to bend and extend my elbow over and over again so it looks my tattoo of an open-mouthed bear is eating their cheeto.
Do Elbow Tattoos Hurt?
Yes. They hurt. They really hurt. No amount of ibuprofen and/or numbing cream will help you here. If you’re getting it done, be prepared to suck it up, buttercup. And because of the lack of flesh on this particular part of your anatomy, you get the added bonus of actually feeling your bone vibrate as the artist is tattooing you.
What starts off as an intense but bearable feeling quickly morphs into and “oh my god, please make it stop,” sensation. My only advice is to breathe and find an artist who can work at convention speed. Avoid taking too many breaks if possible, especially if you’re a sweller like me. Just power through.
What Healing Issues Come With Elbow Tattoos?
Elbow tattoos take longer than most tattoos to heal because of the location. Expect some pretty serious swelling and lack of mobility for a few days. These tattoos seem to hurt more as they heal simply because they are on a part of your body that inevitably has to move, which keeps irritating it.
From past experience, most of my tattoos are pretty tender on the day after I’m tattooed, but start healing on day two or three. However, my elbow was an unexpected solid week of puffiness and pain. It hurt to do even the most basic things like sleep and move a fork towards my mouth for nourishment. And driving was out of the question. By day five I seriously considered going to the hospital, fortunately things took a turn for the better on day six and I no longer felt an amputation was necessary.
The bottom line is that elbow tattoos hurt like the dickens and take a long time to heal.
Elbow tattoos rock. They look awesome and show your dedication to ink as an art form and way of life, but they are incredibly painful and take forever and a day to heal. Still, despite all my protestations throughout this article, I actually think I might get my other elbow done. I have a forearm filled with butterflies that could really use a swarm of bees circling the elbow. Maybe this time I’ll avoid the tip . . . okay maybe just one little bee.
© 2012 Catherine Taylor
Josh on October 21, 2019:
Getting eye of odin tattoo on my elbow, alot of black, so i figured i would see what im in for. this puts the back of your knee higher in pain than your elbow and my first tattoo was on the back of my knee lol. many tattoos and nipple piercings later, i think ill be able to handle it.
Kayle Dubuddha on November 16, 2017:
I think all those inconvenient thinks during the healing period are not so bad as there are so many of elbow tattoos http://www.dubuddha.org/category/elbow-tattoos/ I personaly love elbow tattoos and will make one soon, but not a mainstream traditional style but something really unique.
Mandi on April 11, 2017:
Lol I'm going to get both elbows done tomorrow. Yay for pain;-)
Josh on May 15, 2016:
This article made me feel better. I'm going on 36 hours after my elbow (part of the sleeve) was tattooed and all of a sudden my elbow feels stiff, achy and is keeping me from sleeping. Was thinking to myself, do I have an infection? The skin looks and feels fine. It's the bone or the muscle that feels like there is pain. I guess it's just swelling. Thanks.
jamej on February 17, 2014:
just got a cool star on one elbow ,its big and bold .once its healed im gettin other one done. it did hurt but i love pain.arrrrrr
cody simpson on October 05, 2013:
I just got a huge traditional rose on my elbow today , it covers my entire elbow, with 6 colors of shading Outline actually wasn't too bad , and shading did suck but all tattoos are painful , but its all worth it in the end a few days of pain for a lifetime of art . Over all on a 1-10 pain scale ill give the elbow a solid 7.5 hurts but not too bad.
Joe on May 30, 2013:
Wish i had read this before i went in and got my first tattoo on my elbow lol. it was not simple or small and it took about 4 hours. not that being told it would hurt wouldve changed my mind. but it would have been nice to be able to prepare myself a little bit. it sure as hell did not feel good hahaha. Props to your daughter Tess45, there were only passing moments were i could close my eyes and relax, that's one tough girl.
Tess45 from South Carolina on January 10, 2013:
My daughter fell asleep when she got her elbows done. Both times. Needle on bone doesn't bother her. I am working on my sleeves and I don't want too look like a wuss and have a bare elbow and the rest of my arm covered, so I guess I am going to have to suck it up. I am leaving it to last, however. Might tattoo my knuckles on my birthday. All tattoos hurt. Just some more than others.
Dj on July 24, 2012:
This is a pretty funny article. I'm on day 3 of a solid red and black Red Hot Chili Peppers asterisk on my "swelbow"... I relate to everything said here. I have tattoos in every painful place imagined and nothing compares to this. I understand Fire ants, swelling, praying for amputation! But now that I know this is some pretty normal side effects I feel much better.
Nira Perkins on July 23, 2012:
Nice pics and good information.