Bema is an avid dreamtime traveler and teacher who loves sharing her experiences and adventures for others to benefit from.
The Most Painful Tattoos
Tattooing is an ancient art, and in the recent generation of millennials, it has become the rage once again. Soon, employers won't be able (or even want) to turn away our beautiful tattooed bodies because nearly everyone will have at least one visible tattoo! (What's the fun if you can't show it off?)
You're probably here because you've spent a lot of time figuring out just which tattoo you'd like to get and now you're trying to figure out just where to get it. If it's your first tattoo, the task of picking a place can seem especially terrorizing because you haven't yet experienced the needle and definitely don't want your first time to be a bad experience.
So, as a person who received her first tattoo in one of the worst places you can get one, I feel it's my duty to inform you so you don't make the same mistake your first time.
Not only have I had tattoos done in some really painful areas (see below), but I've also spent a lot of time picking the brains of my various tattoo artists, so I feel I've got a pretty good handle on this particular topic. Please keep in mind that while you'll notice that everyone is different, the places I list below are the most sensitive areas on your body.
People react differently to pain, but suggesting that it doesn't hurt is just a macho way to pretend you didn't notice. Anyone who says getting a tattoo doesn't hurt is lying through their teeth. They all hurt. It's just a matter of tolerance, grounding, and detachment.
Here's a sneak peek of the most painful areas:
- Inner ankles
- Inner arms
The elbow is a particularly sensitive area, which in part is largely a result of tattooing over the lack of fat in such close proximity to bones and joints.
Though that's not the only thing to consider when it comes to pain from elbow tattoos, as any tatts that go over your elbow are also going to swipe over your not-so-funny bone (ulnar nerve), which is exceptionally painful for 9 out of 10 people.
When my artist was running lines and filling in color over my elbow during the progress of my right sleeve tattoos, it created a whole new sort of pain that I wasn't expecting. In addition to the feeling of being scratched by giant super fast cats, it also felt like there had been several super-large vaccination needles shoved down my forearm and all the way up to my pinky finger. To be honest, I'm not sure how I managed to hold still during those passes over my funny bone, though to the surprise of my artist and myself, I managed to do it without flinching once. That being said, it was not a tear-free endeavor.
Meditation can take you far in terms of being able to handle the pain, but it isn't 100% foolproof and will definitely make your eyes water regardless of whether or not you can sit through a dozen or so passes over that super-sensitive nerve that covers such a large piece of real-estate down your arm.
Inner Ankle Tattoos
This is the place that I chose for my very first tattoo. A simple black dancing devil in an area I was hoping wouldn't be too painful. Boy, did I learn my lesson!
The inner ankle doesn't have much skin and is on top of bone. Plus, you'll have to bend at all sorts of weird angles so that your tattoo artist can get the details right.
Inner Arm Tattoos
Where your inner arm bends forward (inner elbow) is a particularly sensitive area. Even though there is way more skin there than on your elbow, it has tons of nerve endings. On top of that, you'll have to get the work redone a few times because places that bend are subject to more flaking and fading than other areas.
Your feet are a double-edged sword when it comes to tattoos. The top of your feet have tons of little bones and lots of sensitive nerve endings. On the soles, you'll not only be ticklish, but your nerve endings will light up and send chills up the rest of your body when that needle goes across them.
The bottom of your feet are also said to be pressure points for many different organs and parts of your body, so I would give it some long, hard thought before going there.
As much as you would think this wouldn't be a bad area, it's actually one of the worst. Think about it: When you touch something hot with the palm of your hand, it hurts way more than it would on the top of your hand. The same is true of tattoos.
So take some time to really think about it before you try to push ahead with a palm tattoo. Many artists won't even risk it, as there is too much chance of you moving and it will fade a lot, meaning consistent touch-ups.
I very much doubt there is anyone who has done a neck tattoo without lots of numbing agents or heavy intoxicants.
Your neck is a highly sensitive area. Besides the nerve endings, you'll also play hell trying to keep centered while you feel the vibration of the needle in your head, jaw, and back. A neck tattoo is often too much pain for most, even with numbing. This is often why neck tattoos take much longer to do.
You'll want to consider how much it will hurt while healing as well. You'll have to wear shirts and coats, plus you'll be laying in bed at night. This means you'll be irritating the area constantly until it heals.
I've only known one person who got a tattoo on their head, and I have only read about a handful of others. On top of having to pay extra, you'll also have to do a lot of meditation and detachment if you're going to get a tattoo on your head.
Plus, you'll have to shave until you're completely bald, then put up with the feeling of a needle being dragged across your skull. Can you do it?
Facial tattoos are becoming more and more popular as the social stigmas that have been attached to tattoos have waned greatly over the past few generations. That doesn't mean they'll come completely judgment-free in terms of how other people will perceive you from their first impression at a distance. Though people don't care as much as they used to, which is part of why more folks feel comfortable getting a tattoo on the face.
One of the Most Painful Places
This is particularly interesting, considering one of the largest factors to consider when getting a face tattoo isn't just the socio-emotional consequences, it's the pain. Your face is exceptionally sensitive in comparison to other areas of the body because your skin is so much thinner and closer to bones. Not to mention, even without direct physical reasons for a needle running across your face to hurt, your mind also creates additional sensations of pain because the first instinctual reaction of your body is to protect your face from danger. Some of this can be mitigated through deep meditation and tolerance, though not 100%. No matter how used to tattoos you are in other areas of your body, or even other facial tattoos, you're still going to be fighting against your bodies natural urges to protect your face--including sending extra pain and fight or flight signals to your brain while you're getting tattooed, in an attempt to get you to stop.
Now . . . while I very much doubt there are many folks out there who would consider getting a facial tattoo for their first tattoo, I know there are definitely some of you out there. So, without negating that there are plenty of folks who feel very little pain even regardless of where they get tattooed (like your face), faces are statistically one of the most painful places to get a tattoo. So consider yourself warned if you're looking for one of your first tattoos and are considering something anywhere on your face.
Spend Some Time Thinking It Over
Likewise, even for those of you who've had several dozen tattoos already, it doesn't hurt to step back and really evaluate whether or not you want to move forward with a tattoo. Even ignoring the social consequences, facial tattoos hurt a lot. I have not gotten a permanent facial tattoo, though I have had a partial water tattoo done in attempts to see if I could make it through one, and it was definitely a no go. This is something that a lot of folks don't consider when going in for a facial tattoo; many people don't make it all the way through their facial tattoos.
That means you might end up with only a partially finished tattoo on your face, which you might not ever get finished.
Room For Error
Finally, but not finitely, another thing to consider in terms of the pain of a facial tattoo is that because the anatomy of your face is such a sensitive area, it's very easy to flinch or jump when or if your tattoo artists hit an area that's especially thick with nerves. That could result in extra lines, blowouts, or other areas of the tattoo that will take additional time to repair--if they can be repaired at all.
I'll be the first to admit that chest tattoos vary in terms of pain level. More often than not, because of how close ribs are to the skin, as well as the sensitivity of nipples and/or breasts, chest tattoos tend to be among the top-rated areas of incredible pain when getting tattooed.
As you can see, getting a tattoo on the knuckles is something I have personal (and recent!) experience with. You could say it's fresh on my mind.
In this picture, you can see that there is only a relatively small area that covers one of my knuckles. There will be more decorative knotwork on the rest of my hand in a few weeks, but I can tell you that even the small amount that is there now entailed quite a pain.
During one of the three sessions it took, we used topical lidocaine to numb my hand. The other two times were without any numbing agents. I can testify that even with the lidocaine, it still hurt like hell!
The good part is that work on the hands is usually very quick. So unless you're doing the tatt yourself, you'll probably be able to grit your teeth and take it. Just make sure not to ask for any famous portraits shrunk down to fit your knuckle. That could take a while.
What Kinds of Pain Will You Feel With a Tattoo?
Most folks assume that when someone talks about the pain of a tattooed, they're only talking about the direct pain experienced while in the act of getting tattooed. Though that's not the only type of pain you're going to experience with new tattoos. There are several other types of pain to keep in mind before letting your tattoo artist start grinding, such as:
1. Healing Pain
There's no way around it, tattoos are an injury to the skin, which means they have to heal. That healing process can sometimes be even more painful than the actual needle time itself. This healing pain can be increased by the location of your tattoo as well. Consider for a moment, that if you get a tattoo on your armpit, you're going to have an especially difficult time not irritating that tattoo all day, unless of course, you're able to do everything with your arm in the air for three to four weeks while your tattoo heals.
Additionally, tattoos in areas like the armpit, are going to be harder to heal because it's a dark moist area that is constantly sweating and being touched by clothing, other people, and other debris. That makes it more difficult to keep your new tattoo dry and in the sunlight, both things you need to properly heal your tattoo. That can definitely increase your healing pain, and can also heighten your chances of getting a tattoo infection.
2. Pain of Infected Tattoos
An infected tattoo can be excruciatingly painful, depending on how badly infected that area of skin becomes. Thankfully, tattoo infections from something the tattoo artist does, as sanitation processes have improved a lot in our modern times. Though that doesn't mean you cannot get an infection after leaving your artist. Even when following all the right after-care steps to keep your tattoo clean and healthy, you're still dealing with an open wound that is susceptible to infection from multiple sources. The likelihood of getting infections can actually be increased or decreased by the location of your new tattoo.
The above example with things like armpit tattoos is a great example of increased risks of infection from the location of your tattoo, though another consideration is how hard it might be to heal from that infection. Take, for example, a tattoo on your foot. Unless you just so happen to have weeks of free time to sit around and keep your foot out of your nasty socks and shoes, and clean from other sources of irritation and infection, you're going to have a much harder time healing from the infection in general. There are no two ways about it, infections are painful enough on their own, though the longer the infection continues, the more pain you're likely to experience. This is significantly true if your infection ends up getting worse.
3. Adverse Reactions
If you already have skin that is prone to dermatological conditions, or for any reason, your immune system isn't operating at 100%, you might experience another sort of pain: adverse reactions. Many of these are similar to the same sort of sensations and pain that would come along with infections, though often without any fever.
Regardless of any fevers though, adverse reactions from tattoos can be brutal depending on how quickly you notice the reaction and how intensely you react. This is significantly true for tattoos in more sensitive areas. A very bad rash or hives on your outer arm would be a lot easier to deal with and heal up than an adverse reaction on your cheek, knuckles or inner thigh.
This is certainly not the end of all other forms of pain that can, though don't usually and hopefully won't this time, come along with getting a tattoo. In particular, when these complications occur in areas that are already more sensitive during the tattooing process itself, you're looking at double the pain should anything else happen afterward. This very much dulls the potential rewards vs the risks for many folks, which is particularly understandable.
Most tattoos from reputable artists turn out just fine and stay that way for years to come. Though even when going to see the best of the best in terms of artists, or who follow a strict aftercare process, can unfortunately still get an infection, have slowed healing time and/or increased irritation, or who might experience and unexpected adverse reaction.
It's wise to consider these possibilities before getting any tattoo, though it's especially recommended before getting tattoos in places that are already commonly more painful or more difficult to tattoo.
A World of Hurt
There are many places on the body that are more likely to increase the inherent pain that comes with getting tattooed in general. Keeping an awareness that everyone is different and will have different levels of pain that they associate with different areas of the body, you might also find an increased sensation of pain in these areas when getting tattooed:
- Collar Bone
The listed places above or this extra list below are by no means an exhaustive list of all the places that are likely to hurt worse than others when it comes to getting tattooed. Make sure to continue your research if this is your first tattoo, as the pain level of first tattoos often determines how likely a person is to get more tattoos. If you've really been dreaming of adorning your living canvas with multiple pieces of tattoo art, take the time to plan it out and smoothly go into it, so that the experience is as enjoyable as the art itself.
Healing Your New Tattoos
Healing and keeping your skin in good condition after getting tattoos is important regardless of where you get your tattoos or how much they hurt. Though when it comes to the more sensitive areas that you can get a tattoo, having a good self-care process can be even more important in terms of reducing pain and fading; especially in places like your knuckles.
My preference is for Hemp Eaze Tattoo Balms or Tattoo Goo. Both are incredibly gentle, rarely cause allergic reactions (but make sure to check the ingredients for any known allergies just to be safe!), yet they're both exceptionally great at healing your skin without messing with your new body art in the way many petroleum-based products do. They're both also fantastic for general skin health and healing and are fantastic to keep in the first aid kit too. Myself and several friends have used both to heal various areas from severe burns and abrasions. I've got both Hemp Eaze and Tattoo Goo in my car and my medicine cabinet. They're just that useful.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Share your experience!
OneTwoThree on May 11, 2018:
My lower leg tattoo (side of leg) did not hurt, and I am not lying through my teeth. I went in not fretting the pain even though I knew that it would hurt like a cat scratch, but it didn't end up hurting, just felt like a tickle from a straight pin, and was actually relaxing at one point. It was a half-point on the one-to-ten pain scale (maybe up to one point close to the knee and ankle). Up next is a sleeve, so we'll see if that hurts more or not, but I can grin and bear it, use imaging techniques, or distract myself if it does. I don't have a high pain tolerance by any means (I'm a baby when it comes to pain, though I do have chronic pain conditions, but I also have a needle phobia, so maybe I'm just crazy), but I think being and staying calm about the pain expectations helps, along with the excitement of getting the tattoo and watching the process (I sat up and watched the whole thing, which was very interesting).
Scott on March 06, 2015:
I have roughly 74 tattoos from head to toe. The one on my head was the least painful in fact i fell asleep getting it. Neck burns more than it hurts. Knees , elbows and inner arm not that bad. Knuckles not painful at all. I tattooed my on feet(I'm a tattoo artist) hurts but not the worst. About to tattoo palms of hands we will see. You want to talk real PAIN try the penis hurts like H*LL try staying erect while you stick a needle in it thousands of times. And that's all I have to say about that..
michaela k on December 10, 2014:
Hey I have only two tattos one on my wrist and one behind the ear witch I didn't even feel getting that done, I now want a tattoo on my ribs saying, you left me beautiful memories, your love is still my guide, and though we can not see you, your always at my side. And I also want a persons ashes put into that and I was just woundering if anyone has ever done that would it be more painful or would it just be the same as getting a normal one on you ribs?
EGE on September 17, 2014:
My neck was my least painful tattoo. It actually didn't hurt. A bikini wax is more uncomfortable, even. Fingers were insanely painful and chest was no picnic.
If you're getting a tattoo remember to be well hydrated, well rested, and well fed to minimize discomfort! Your body is going through trauma!
Melissa on September 16, 2014:
Good read. I have to disagree with the head though, as I found mine one of the least painful out of my 20+ tattoos!
PermissionGiver (author) from Lake Stevens on July 08, 2014:
Actually, if you're up for it, I could create a new module in this hub where pics can be posted. You'd have to send them to me at email@example.com, at least until HP figures out how to do pic sharing in the comments section =)
DerekL on June 02, 2014:
Yeah being able to post pics would be cool. We are suppose to be finishing up my rib piece tomorrow. Excited to get it finished. There are so many pieces I want done just hard to decide where to start next would like to sleeve my left arm. My right arm sleeve now only goes up about 3" past my elbow so I would like to finish that off as well up to my shoulder. But honestly my next piece will be my collar bone that will go almost from shoulder to shoulder I am sure another sensitive area. If you figure out away to share pics of our ink let me know I would love to see others tats and share pics of mine.
PermissionGiver (author) from Lake Stevens on May 29, 2014:
Thank you so much for coming back and telling us about your rib tatts! I wish we could share pics through this commenting system, as it would be awesome to see the badass art that comes through from what sounds like a rather sensitive area. I know I've had plenty of friends who have gotten rib tattoos, and while they were worth it for them, they tell me they wouldn't recommend it without some serious forethought.
Do you have any plans for your next tatt after the ribs are healed up? =)
DerekL on May 27, 2014:
So the ribs for me have been the most sensitive area I have been inked to date. The bit of outlining in the rib piece went okay there were a few really tough areas to get through but made it. The good majority of the tat is shading and that's when it got rough I made it through one and a half hours for the first sitting. There is about another hour and half to two hours left. The fact of the way the shading goes and having to keep going back to do the different levels of shading over the same areas for me made it a lot more sensitive. So in my opinion anyone considering a rib piece for there first tat I think they should maybe choose a different area as it may be a tough one to sit through.
PermissionGiver (author) from Lake Stevens on May 25, 2014:
Can't wait to hear how it goes Derek! I hope you'll come back soon and let us know where the pain comparison is for you on the ribs =)
Derek L on May 20, 2014:
I have a bunch I tatts. The back and sides of my neck and even my throat. All not bad. The worst one pain wise to date would be the back of my calf. I even have my knuckles on both hands done that read PURE HELL not pun intended as even there wasn't too bad. Yes all tatts hurt to some degree. It is also best not to drink alcohol the day before or day of as this can thin your blood and lead to bleeding. Today getting my ribs tattooed so I will be able to let you know how that feels. It is a pretty big piece so I don't know if I will do it in one sitting or not it like mentioned before big tats take a lot out of you. If you are worried about how bad the tattoo will hurt where you want it you may want to reconsider whether you really want the tattoo. I never put much thought into is it gonna hurt rather is it gonna look good when it's done.
Mikey on April 20, 2014:
Pain is good sometimes & can be very therapeutic, I remember falling asleep once but also remember having laser treatment on my nipple now that hurts so freaking much I couldn't finish the 6week coarse. Still going to get more what ever....
PermissionGiver (author) from Lake Stevens on November 24, 2013:
The top of the foot is definitely a sensitive area for sure. Speaking of sensitive areas, I have a friend who recently got a tattoo that went over his nipple and it was apparently a very painful tickle of sorts, if that makes sense. When I had one done over mine, it definitely did not hurt at all. Though that may be because I'm a mama.
Any thoughts on this?
Rebecca on November 11, 2013:
I got my seventh tattoo on the entire top of my foot. The touch up on it was the worst pain ever. He had to go deeper into my skin and take twice as long. My other ones were nothing compared to that. The ribs hurt pretty bad. The foot was pretty bad though.
Leigha Dow on October 23, 2013:
I have 16 tattoos. The one on the top of my foot hurt quite a bit. I have an anklet tattoo which didn't hurt until he got to the back of the ankle, but even that only felt like a nick from a razor. I have wrist/forearm tattoos that didn't hurt at all. Back of neck tickled. Behind my ear was more aggravating than painful...the sound of the tattoo gun so close to my ear was a bit freaky. Hips, shoulder, collarbone area, lower back-a breeze. I just recently got the back of my thighs done...now THAT wasn't a walk in the park. But it looks wicked cool so it's worth the pain.
Katie on April 26, 2013:
I got the back of my neck tattooed about 4 days ago and you're pretty accurate there. I didn't have any numbing or anything and it was harsh(and it was my first tattoo, five days after I turned 18)! Now it's hard to find clothes that don't irritate it and the constant movement really irritates it. But I love the placement, and while I'm constantly panicking about if I'm caring for it wrong, I'm glad I did it!
Johnny on October 11, 2012:
I had the side of my neck tattooed with out numbing agents or intoxicants, it hurts a lot, but I was able to tolerate it. My elbow was much much worse for me pain wise.
Amari Lana on July 22, 2012:
I got one done on the back of my neck and I honestly fell asleep, the after product hurt more than the tattooing. Also got one on the inside of my forearm, it only hurt once it got towards the hair line. But yeah anything that goes over bone and were your skin isn't as thick is going to hurt, but beauty is pain.
Edmund on June 06, 2012:
I have both of my hands, wrist, rib cage, under side of my forearm, calf and chest right under my collar bone done, hands down the rib cage was the worst, it was the largest and took the most time. a lot of the pain depends on the area and the type of needle, and the artist. i'm a bleeder so my artist usually has to go back over a couple of times and i need touch ups, they all hurt but time is also a factor, the only one i didn't get done in one sitting was my rib cage, i got the serenity prayer in old english from about an inch under the nipple all the way down over my hip, 8 hours in total! nerves kick and your skin gets raw, big tats like that take a lot out of you, smaller ones go quick but mine are in sensitive spots. if your getting your first one get it in a place with muscle, like your calf or arm, they arent as bad, areas with just skin and bone are painful. the top of my hands hurt pretty bad and the healing process takes longer than other areas.
PermissionGiver (author) from Lake Stevens on May 26, 2012:
Well, I try to make my own tattoo decisions based on how it will look later instead of how much it will hurt in any particular place, as how it looks later is the reward ;)
Though i think you're on the best track if you want to keep the pain to a minimum. Instead of the rips, try your hips or the side of abdomen. Just keep in mind though, that anywhere around your lungs is going to be more of a challenge for your tattoo artist because you can't hold your breath the whole time and that movement can effect the outcome of the tattoo if they don't take their time and do it right - some artist will charge more for that. =)
sammiemarlow3818 on May 22, 2012:
I want a tattoo on my side but its my first tattoo and I am nervous that its going to hurt REALLY bad. I know nobody can tell me if it will or not because its all about pain tolerance and stuff, but I want it near my side, so mybe if its not RIGHT on my ribs, where should I get it? Like lower side, kinda where some chub is? haha. Help me.
PermissionGiver (author) from Lake Stevens on April 11, 2012:
Well said M F C Lancer. Any tattoo can be wasted if ot cared for properly afterward.
m f c lancer on April 11, 2012:
Once you have your fresh new tattoo, you need to take good care of it! From this point on, your artist is not responsible for any infection or problems you may have with your tattoo if you don't take proper care of it. It is very important that you follow guidelines. A really beautiful tattoo can turn into a disaster if the proper aftercare is not taken.
PermissionGiver (author) from Lake Stevens on April 08, 2012:
LOL @ MissLady. Not sure if that was a serious comment, but in all honesty, I've had a few friends who have gotten "rear-end" tattooes, and said it sort of tickled. In my experience with tatts, I could see that as logical, being that there is virtually no bone there, and very soft muscles.
@xxx, while I understand you're point of view on numbing agents during tattoos, and I agree that if you can't stand pain, you probably aren't a good candidate for getting a tatt. Though I differ towards you're opinion, in that using topical numbing agents can help ease a person into the tatt process. I've never heard of any numbing agents that actually take away all the pain.
The one time I used lidocain (sp?) on my knuckles, it certainly didn't take the pain fully away. Though it did help me get a feel for just how sensitive that area is, and I was able to finish the tatt without the lidocaine.
MissLady on April 07, 2012:
I got my ass tattooed and it felt amazing!
xxx on April 06, 2012:
Really? numbing stuff ? Come on guy that's cheating everyone i know that has a throat tattoo never used the stuff. Don't get a tattoo in a place if you can't deal with the pain and use a crutch.
bangingbeauty on October 27, 2011:
Great article. Kudos to you for being able to bear with the pain. Cheers!
Kathi Truscott from Canada, Windsor Ontario on September 27, 2011:
first tatoo I had was ankle. I love tattoo's
Sam Dolloff from Maine on September 08, 2011:
I have several tattoos, none in these places but I can say that the three sesions I had on my rib cage was painful! Oh my word did it hurt! My tattoo artist said it would hurt me because I dont have a lot of fat in that area. Oh well! It was worth it!
Anyone looking to get a tattoo should expect pain, I mean come on.... it is a needle (or several) driving into your skin....
Mico on June 02, 2011:
It is best to take them where it is least painful. http://www.micocrane.com/
Dakota on May 22, 2011:
I have a neck tattoo and wasn't intoxicated or anything, I didn't feel a thing. I pretty much fell asleep while getting it. Do you have a neck tattoo???
tone on May 16, 2011:
Yea my 1st tattoo was on my neck a ed hardy tiger with letters and it hurt but not like I expected I got one the back of my ear which didn't hurt, arms, inner arm, ribs I actually enjoy tha pain in a way it dosnt hurt
Becca Lopez on May 11, 2011:
LOVE IT! People will eventually have to accept the tattoed beauties of the world. It's an expression just like clothes, hair style or makeup. Love the tattoo on your hand!