Tattoos have come a long way in terms of mainstream acceptance as recently as the past decade or so. People who formerly shunned the idea of body art due to social and cultural stigma have started giving serious thought to adorning themselves with ink. Nowadays, the chief factor giving most would-be tattooees pause is the pain factor.
The pain associated with tattooing is a subject that equally fascinates and terrifies those considering making an appointment to get inked. In fact, the Internet is awash with articles, charts and illustrations that seek to explain and categorize tattoo pain based on location on the body so that those interested in getting tattooed can better mentally prepare. Are there places that are more painful to get tattooed, and if so, what makes them that way?
Know your body's defenses
Tattoo pain is largely affected by the way your body is built. Areas where the skin is insulated from the bone underneath by a healthy layer of muscle have a natural defense against some of the pain associated with the tattoo process. Of course, this means that spots where the skin is much thinner or where there is significantly less underlying muscle mass are more likely to carry higher levels of pain and discomfort.
If your muscle is the insulation between your skin and pain, your nerves are the highway on which that discomfort travels. Some parts of the body have a much higher concentration of nerve endings than others, meaning that getting inked in those spots is likely to hurt more. For example, hands, feet, fingers and toes are veritable bundles of nerve endings, so you're likely to feel even small tattoos quite acutely.
What are the trouble spots?
There's a lot of folk wisdom circulating throughout the tattoo world as to which spots are the most or least painful. People considering a tattoo for the first time may want to do some research or even talk to people who have gotten inked before to try and corroborate this information to better make a decision. For example, while the upper arm, shoulder, thigh and calf are generally considered to be fairly low-impact as far as pain goes, first-timers or those who are worried about pain would most likely want to steer clear of the ribcage, armpit, back of the knee and back of the elbow, as these are commonly considered to be the worst places to get tattooed. Other areas, like the chest, collar bones and neck may vary from person to person.
How to prepare
One question that many tattoo neophytes ask is if there are any ways to prepare for the pain ahead of time. The short answer is, not really. While there are a variety of pharmaceutical or other pain-control measures you can look into, in almost every case the pain relief isn't worth the effort or risk involved. For example, topical numbing agents may seem like a straightforward option, but as LoveToKnow pointed out, many of these work by reducing the flow of blood to the affected area, which may impact how the tattoo sets in the skin. Similarly, lidocaine injections like those used by dentists can change the firmness or even shape of the skin where it's injected, making tattooing over a numbed patch of skin a dicey endeavor.
In most cases, the anticipation of pain is far worse than the actual discomfort experienced during a tattoo. One of the most important things to keep in mind is to avoid psyching yourself out before your appointment – a bad case of nerves could result in jitters or shakes, and leave you with tattoo regret.
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