One question non-tattooed people always ask the members of the inked community is, “Did it hurt?” As someone with a handful of designs inked upon my body, I can officially say that, yes, I have had to answer this question at least once a week. Whether it’s in the checkout line at the grocery store or at the doctor’s office, it’s just one of those things that comes with being tattooed. So what do we tell these curious individuals? It’s a hard question to answer.
For some of us, like myself, there is no pain, just a mere uncomfortable feeling during the process—and even that depends on the location and time spent on the piece. I can honestly say that the itchy phase that came the following week was harder than sitting through the tattoo itself. But, I have an exceptionally high pain tolerance and I know I’m not the normal, so I make it a point to tell people this when they ask.
Others can hardly tolerate it—having to stop frequently during even the smallest of pieces to avoid passing out. Some get physically sick from the pain, some feel faint. As with most things, the pain level you feel during a tattoo is completely dependent upon the person. There is no one size fits all reaction to being inked, so answering the typical questions of, “Did it hurt,” and “How much does a tattoo hurt,” is a nearly impossible feat.
While it isn’t a cut and paste type of situation, there is a generalization of the averages—how much certain areas hurt the mass of people that have been tattooed. These charts are taken from an average of reported cases, as well as by utilizing nerve locations to determine which areas would likely hurt the most. Again, if you’re anything like me, these may not be the reactions you feel—or you could feel worse than it states—but it will help you to be prepared if you’re unsure of your pain tolerance or if you already know you have a low pain threshold.
When you’re planning out your tattoo, it is important to discuss location with your artist. They know firsthand what areas are the most uncomfortable—or the most excruciating, depending on your pain limits—and they’ll be able to help you find a location for your artwork that fits your tolerance the best. Let’s break this down into three categories: Least Discomfort, Some Discomfort, and Most Discomfort (I’m using the term discomfort versus pain as it may not hurt some, while it may hurt others—so take this as general information and not the end-all, be-all of tattoo pain rankings!).
Let’s start with least discomfort.
If you’re getting your first tattoo, or if you’re really susceptible to pain, these areas are probably best for you to get started with. You’ll notice these are the most common locations you’ll see when looking at typical tattoo locations. Generally, someone with only one or two tattoos will have theirs in one of these places.
The areas that are believed to cause the least discomfort are:
If you’ve had a few tattoos before, or if you’re fairly tolerant of pain, these areas aren’t quite as common as the above, but they’re not likely to make you scream in pain, either. These can be found on people with only one or two tattoos, as the discomfort is still fairly minimal—again, this is reliant on your pain threshold.
The areas that are believed to cause some discomfort are:
-Outer & Top Thigh
If you know you can’t handle pain, it’s probably best to steer clear of these areas. These locations are usually only seen on people who are heavily inked. It’s rare to see someone with their very first piece going on one of these areas. Of course, I say that, and my first tattoo was actually on my hand, but I knew my tolerance going into it. Like I keep saying, we’re all different and only you can decide what you can and cannot handle.
-Ankles & Feet
-Back of Knee
Again, these are generalizations. They’re not a definite. Your piece may hurt, even if it’s located in one of the low discomfort zones. It could be that you’re a beast, and a tattoo located in a high discomfort zone could be as simple as getting your teeth cleaned. Who knows? Every one of us is unique and different—which is what makes the tattoo industry so much fun. You never know how someone is going to react, making each tattoo a different experience for both the person receiving the tattoo and the artist making the magic happen.