Pain of Getting a Tattoo in Different Places

Woman getting tattoo

It's a known fact that any tattoo will hurt. However, there are several areas on your body that are much more painful than others when getting a tattoo. While pain can vary by person, it can be helpful to know what you're in for before getting inked.

Why Tattoos Are Painful

Tattoos are a permanent means of leaving behind a design on the body. A needle pierces the upper layer of skin, or epidermis, to the dermis layer below. You aren't just getting poked with one needle, but several at once, depending on the design. This makes the process painful.

But not all tattoos are excruciating. In truth, most areas of the body are just annoying, like being scratched repeatedly. However, there are areas where the pain can be particularly amplified, and there are several reasons for this:

  • Having more sensitivity in one area
  • Amount of nerve endings in an area
  • Getting an area tattooed directly over bone, where the vibration can amplify pain
  • The pace and pressure of the tattoo artist on a particular area
  • Your personal tolerance for pain

Understanding the Pain in Different Places

While all tattoos will be painful to some degree, a few areas are consistently rated as being more painful to tattoo than others, according to Inked Magazine. If you're worried about pain, placements in these areas can be more painful than a 5 on a pain scale.

Behind the Knee

The sensitivity of this area makes it very painful to tattoo. It has been described as piercing, hot pain. Not only will you feel a burning pain, but you'll have to work very hard to keep your leg from jerking.


The feet and toes have very little 'meat' and are close to the bone, so you feel the normal sting along with the vibration of the gun on the bone. This can feel as though the gun is grinding along the bone. Your toes will also naturally jerk, so bear that in mind.


Your hands are designed to feel your way through life and have several nerve endings, making this very high on the pain chart, especially the bony fingers and the palms. The palms of the hands are especially painful, and could reach a 9 or 10, depending on your pain tolerance.

Pubic Bone and Groin

Your so-called sex areas or erogenous zones are full of nerve endings and very little meat, so tattoos in this area can be blindingly painful. Those on the penis and/or vagina have been known to make people pass out.


Lack of muscle along the sternum makes the vibration of the gun on the skin felt all the way into the chest cavity. The vibration can amplify the pain making people feel a bit sick to their stomach.

Inner arm

Much like the inner knee, the nerve endings can make you feel a piercing, hot pain. This is what is typically referred to as a white-knuckle area, because you grip the chair hard to remain sitting.


The spine is a long-interconnected area of bone that will vibrate with the tattoo gun. This will make the pain sharp and feel as if it is running along the whole length of the spine.


Much like the spine, the elbow is a joint that connects two bones. Therefore, tattoos in this area will reverberate along both bones, making the pain seem as if it runs from your wrist to your shoulder. However, take comfort in the fact that this is a small area.


Your eyeball is a delicate area that can become easily irritated; therefore, any tattoos in the eye area can be described as excruciating. However, it is a small area that is usually done very quickly.

Behind the Ear

The back of your ear falls along the bottom of your skull. Therefore, as the gun pierces this area, you will feel the vibrations running along the length of your skull. This will intensify the pain from simply scratching, burning pain to feeling that plus being jabbed repeatedly with a dull metal object.

On the Ribcage

The ribcage is a large bony area that will transfer the vibration of the gun adding to the pain. To truly understand the pain of this area, try applying pressure right along the rib itself; this will give you an idea of how this will feel.


Any area of the face will be annoyingly painful because you have nerve endings and the skull to content with. These will amplify the motion of the gun and increase the pain. However, the t-zone area of the face is usually the most painful because of the added nerve endings.


Much like the sex areas, the nipples have increased nerve endings because they are one of our erogenous zones. This will make this area high on the pain scale.

Tattoo Pain Chart

This chart will rate all the different areas of the body based on the pain you will experience from a tattoo.

T-zone of Face Excruciating
Back of Skull High
Back of Ear High
Face & Head High
Neck High
Collar Bone Medium
Shoulders Low
Arm Pits/Inner Elbow Excruciating
Nipples Excruciating
Rib Cage Excruciating
Chest/Stomach High/Medium
Biceps Low
Forearm Low
Wrist High/Medium
Hands High
Palms Excruciating
Elbows High
Sides of Abdomen High
Spine High
Upper Back High
Sides of Back Low
Lower Back Medium
Butt/Gluteus Low
Inner Thigh High
Pelvic Bone & Sex Organs Excruciating
Outer Thigh Low
Front and Back of Thigh Medium
Knees High
Inner Calf Medium
Outer Calf Low
Ankles Medium/High
Feet/Toes High
Eye Excruciating

Lessening the Pain of a Tattoo

Woman receiving tattoo

If you're contemplating a tattoo on an area you know to be highly sensitive, there are things you can do to help ease the pain a little.

Topical Anesthetic

Many tattoo parlors offer a topical anesthetic applied to the area an hour before you're inked. Results vary by person, and if this is a long tattoo job, the anesthetic may begin to wear off before you're finished.

Do not take aspirin or other pain killers beforehand; these can thin your blood and make the tattoo bleed more heavily. Likewise, trying to dull the pain by getting intoxicated beforehand is also an unwise idea.

Going Slow

Ask the tattoo artist to take his or her time. Some artists attempt to get you in and out as quickly as possible to move on to the next client. In their haste, they can push with a heavier hand into your skin, causing more pain.

Light Touch

Along with speed, the touch of the artist is important in relation to the level of pain you'll feel during the tattoo process. The lighter the hand of the artist on the needle, the less pain you'll have during the procedure. Interview a few artists ahead of time to determine if one might have a lighter touch than another. Or, talk to friends with tattoos to see if they've worked with an artist who is more gentle.


The single most important thing you can do to lessen the pain of a tattoo is to relax. If you tense up, contracting nearby muscles and tendons, you'll be sending a message to your nerve endings to prepare for battle. This heightens pain of the tattoo no matter where it is on the body, or how light the touch of the artist. Take some deep breaths, think calm thoughts and let the artist work, you'll be surprised in the end just how little you felt.

The Pain Game

While it is true there are areas on everyone that are painful, the pain of getting a tattoo in different places will absolutely vary from person to person. Only you can tell how sensitive to pain an area on your body is, and what your pain tolerance levels are. What was painful to a friend might not be to you, so while input and opinion is helpful, it shouldn't be the last word. If you are really concerned, you can talk to your artist. But remember, the pain of a tattoo will only last a few hours, but it will be on your body for a lifetime, so get what you want where you want it.

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Pain of Getting a Tattoo in Different Places