Tattoo location

How much does getting a tattoo hurt?

That depends on where you get it. Getting tattooed on some parts of the body hurts more than others, for a variety of reasons.

Our tattoo pain chart will help you understand at a glance where getting tattooed hurts the most and the least. We surveyed experienced tattoo artists and enthusiasts, asking them to rank tattoo pain level for each body part they’ve had tattooed on a 1–10 scale. We share our tattoo pain scale and discuss the results in this guide, so you’ll have a better idea of what to expect from your next tattoo!

TATTOO PAIN CHART

These tattoo pain charts provide a visual of where tattooing tends to hurt the most and least. Areas of the body that have more nerve endings and bones that are closer to the skin tend to hurt more than those with more padding and fewer nerves.

Factors That Affect Tattoo Pain

Getting tattooed is bound to involve some pain, no matter where you get the tattoo. That’s just par for the course! However, a number of factors affect the specific tattoo pain level you’ll experience.

With any tattoo, the area can feel tender afterward as well, since the skin is healing. Following proper tattoo aftercare guidelines will help avoid any complications like infection, allowing any lingering pain or irritation to subside as quickly as possible.

Most Painful Places to Get a Tattoo

Many of the most painful places to get a tattoo are bonier regions of the body, as our tattoo pain chart shows. If the bones are closer to the skin (meaning they don’t have much padding), getting tattooed is likely to feel more painful there. 

 Learn the top seven most painful areas to get a tattoo, as ranked by tattoo artists and enthusiasts in our pain level survey. We asked respondents to rank pain levels for each body part they’ve had tattooed on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the lowest and 10 being the highest.

#1: Ankles and Shins

Pain Level: 10

The thin skin on the ankles and shins, combined with the fact that the bones lie so close to the surface, makes these areas extremely sensitive when being tattooed. Survey respondents said the ankles and shins are the most painful places to get a tattoo.

“I have coordinates tattooed onto my ankle, it’s small and dark. It’s my only tattoo, so the most painful for me IMO.” -Stina Round Rock, TX 

 

#2: Calves

Pain Level: 10

Interestingly, respondents to our survey said that the calves were one of the most painful places to get tattooed. This speaks to the fact that pain is highly subjective when it comes to tattoos since calves are often rated as one of the less painful places to get a tattoo. The back of the calf tends to be much more painful than the side since it has many more nerve endings, respondents noted.

” I have a white bronco on my calve; it hurt. There is nothing more to say. Compared to my bicep, it was worse.” – Trent Austin, TX 

 

#3: Chest

Pain Level: 10

For many people, the chest is one of the most painful tattoo spots. However, this depends on the person and the specific area of the chest being tattooed. The collarbone area is susceptible, for instance. Meanwhile, those getting a tattoo on the breast area may feel less pain during the tattooing process as there is more tissue between the dermis and the chest plate.

“I have a black and grey ram skull chest tattoo which goes from shoulder to shoulder. The majority of my chest was fine; as soon as we got close to my collar bone and my sternum, my ears began to ring a little.” – Brenna Nashville, TN

 

#4: Hands and Feet

Pain Level: 10

The hands and feet have a lot of fine bones close to the skin, making these areas highly sensitive, as you can see from our tattoo pain chart. Plus, they are filled with major nerve endings!

“My hands and knucles were noting compared to the inside of my palm! All in all the hands are the worst!” – Paige El Paso, TX 

 

#5: Elbow

Pain Level: 10

At the elbow, the bone lies directly beneath the skin as well, so this area can be quite sensitive to pain. The inner part of the elbow is extremely sensitive due to its nerve endings and thin skin.

“I have a black and grey ram skull chest tattoo which goes from shoulder to shoulder. The majority of my chest was fine; as soon as we got close to my collar bone and my sternum, my ears began to ring a little.” – Brenna Nashville, TN

 

#6: Ribcage

Pain Level: 10

The ribcage is a more painful place to get a tattoo because—you guessed it—the bones lie just under the surface, and the nerves are close to the skin. Plus, the act of breathing exacerbates the sensation of pain, even after tattooing!

“I have both of my ribs tattooed on one side I have a tall ship that runs from my belt to the inside of my armpit. on the other side, I have blackwork. By far the most uncomfortable part of my rib tattoo was when we were lining out the tall ship and the artist had to line over each rib, it felt like my rib cage was a drum.” – Phil Houston, TX 

 

#7: Knees

Pain Level: 8

The front of the knee tends to be a fairly tolerable spot to get a tattoo, survey respondents said, as it has thicker skin. However, the back of the knees is highly sensitive since it has more nerve endings.

“I have a red Japanese Hana mask on one knee and a foo dog on the other, the knee cap was the worst part, as we started to work our way down the shin the pain became surprisingly more tolerable.” – JO Chicago, IL 

It should be noted that certain other areas are also more sensitive to tattooing, like the armpit and groin, due to their high number of nerve endings. Survey respondents did not happen to have tattoos in these areas, and tattoos in these spots are less common in general. While they didn’t show up in our tattoo pain chart top results, as you might imagine, tattoos in such areas can be quite sensitive.

 

Least Painful Place to Get a Tattoo

The following body parts tend to be the seven least painful places to get a tattoo. Many of these body parts have many more “padding” than bonier areas like the ankles and feet. 

Remember, exact pain level varies based on a number of factors like age and the skill of the artist. The results shown here are based on the scores from our tattoo pain level survey conducted among artists and enthusiasts.

#1: Upper Outer Thigh

Pain Level: 2

Because the upper outer thigh has few nerve endings and a lot of padding in the form of fat, it tends to be the least painful place to get a tattoo, as our tattoo pain chart shows.

“I have a neotraditional woman wearing a native american war bonnet which baisically takes up my whole thigh. I sat through my entire session with Joseph Haefs in one session.” – Jorie, Knoxville, TN 

#2: Upper and Lower Back

Pain Level: 4

Aside from the spinal area itself, the back tends to be less sensitive to pain due to the presence of fewer nerve endings and fairly thick skin.

“When I tattooed the logo of a company I no longer work at onto my lower back, it was surprisingly painful. However, it was nothing compared to my ribs.” – Phil, Houston, TX 

#3: Sternum

Pain Level: 8

As our tattoo pain chart shows, respondents in our survey found the sternum to be one of the less painful spots to get a tattoo. However, some people do find the sternum to be a sensitive area.

“My sturnum tattoo HURT I have a chandelier style mandala that runs down my sternum and under my chest onto my ribs” the ribs hurt worse than the sternum portion of the tattoo. It was still painfull though…” – Chelsea, Boston, MA

 

#4: Shoulder

Pain Level: 5

The shoulder area tends to have more cushioning and fewer nerve endings, making the pain less severe during the tattooing process.

“The scream mask that I got tattooed onto my shoulder is a coverup. Realism requires a ton of saturation so the artist worked the area pretty hard. Otherwise the tattoo wasn’t that bad.”  Sarah Atlanta, GA

#5: Stomach

Pain Level: 6

The stomach tends to have a lot more cushioning in the form of fat or muscle than many other body parts. And, of course, there are no bones to worry about, which also makes the stomach a less painful place to get a tattoo. People with tighter skin in the stomach area tend to experience less sensitivity while being tattooed here. 

“I had a mommy makeover tattoo that I got done after my last daughter and the pain was nothing compared to childbirth!” Kennedy Richmond, VA 

#6: Outer Bicep

Pain Level: 6.5

This area has a fair amount of cushioning over the bone, so it’s less sensitive than certain other parts of the arm, like the elbow, as our tattoo pain chart shows.

“When I was stationed in Yuma, AZ I got a globe and an eagle tattooed onto my arm. SEMPER FI!” – August San Diego, CA 

 

#7: Forearms

Pain Level: 7

A forearm tattoo can be surprisingly painful because of the radial nerve that runs through it, making the forearm one of the more sensitive spots on our tattoo pain chart.

“The pain that I felt was tolerable, and I have a traditional black cracken tattoo spanning the length of my forearm. It was vastly different from that of my chest tattoo which had me writhing,”  -David Salt Lake City, UT

 

Advice for Reducing Tattoo Pain

By taking certain easy steps, you can help minimize your pain level while getting tattooed. Know the dos and don’ts of preparing to get tattooed so you’ll take the right measures to lower your pain level. Here are our biggest recommendations:

  • Do go early in the day, or when you’re not tired.
  • Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Don’t take painkillers.
  • Do eat a proper, filling meal 1 to 2 hours before your session.
  • However, don’t eat if you’re getting your stomach tattooed!
  • Do choose someone with experience!
  • Do ask tattoo artists for breaks if needed.
  • Stay hydrated before and after! 

Start drinking more water a couple of weeks before getting tattooed for best results. Avoid alcohol for at least 24 hours before your tattoo appointment (and afterward, on the day of your appointment). Alcohol thins the blood, which can cause excess bleeding, making tattooing more challenging and delaying healing. 

Bring a snack with you if you’ll be sitting for a long session, so you can keep your blood sugar levels up. Eating well will help your body to naturally reduce the sensation of pain (plus, you’ll be less fidgety!). Taking breaks during a long session will help make pain feel more tolerable, too.

If getting your stomach tattooed, ask your tattoo artist for guidance about what and when to eat before your session.

Final Thoughts on Tattoo Pain

As discussed, some pain is unavoidable when getting a tattoo. However, if you’re eager to avoid higher levels of pain, you might consider getting a tattoo on one of the less sensitive areas of the body shown on our tattoo pain chart. 

Alternatively, talk with your tattoo artist about ways to minimize or cope with the sensation of pain during the tattooing process. Many experienced artists are skilled at making their clients as comfortable as possible, even for more sensitive regions like the ankles and hands.

Is laser tattoo removal painful?

If you’re interested in laser tattoo removal, the same regions of the body that are most sensitive for tattoos tend to be slightly more sensitive for tattoo removal. However, laser removal is much less uncomfortable than actually getting tattooed—and significantly faster! 

Each session lasts from a minute to several minutes, depending on the size of the tattoo, and it feels more like getting snapped with a rubber band than having a needle poking at your skin. As with tattooing, following proper tattoo removal aftercare protocol like avoiding alcohol and sun while staying hydrated will minimize any lingering irritation. 

Our experienced specialists at Removery are skilled at minimizing discomfort. Book a consultation to find out more about tattoo removal costs and other details, whether in preparation for a cover up or just to get rid of your old ink!