Tattoos are fun and beautiful, but everyone knows they hurt. When you get a tattoo you are asking someone to deliberately stab a needle into your skin and insert ink, often for several hours straight. One of the most common questions in relation to tattoos is how much they hurt. Everyone wants to know what kind of pain they are signing up for, and understandably so. There is virtually no way to get a tattoo without experiencing some kind of pain. It is always going to hurt, but there are many factors that play into the exact level of pain you will feel.

what tattoos hurt the most
what tattoos hurt the most

Some people have low pain tolerance but want a tattoo anyway, so they will ask – what tattoos hurt the most?

  • Head
  • Feet
  • Hands
  • Armpit
  • Ribs
  • Inner Thigh

Every location on the body will hurt a little differently but for the most part, places with very little muscle and fat will be more painful.

If you are looking to avoid mass amounts of pain when getting your tattoo, there are locations that will be better for you as well as locations you should avoid. There are also design elements that you can take into consideration when thinking about pain, as well as the amount of color, shading, and outlining.

Most Painful Locations

While everyone will have varying levels of pain tolerance, there are some locations on the body that will always be universally painful. These are places that you should avoid entirely if you want to keep the pain mild.

what tattoos are the most painful?


The ribcage is notorious for being one of the top most painful tattoo locations. Despite this, it is highly sought after for the beautiful and desirable aesthetic it can achieve. It is also a good spot to hide under clothing if necessary for a job.

The ribs are painful because the rib bones are so close to the surface of the skin. So when you are getting a tattoo, there isn’t much between the needle and the bone. As beautiful as they can be, those with low pain tolerance should avoid rib tattoos.


The head has a complete lack of fat and a real abundance of nerves. This combination is deadly for a tattoo needle. The head, along with the ribs, is widely accepted as one of the absolute most painful locations for a tattoo. Not only is it painful, but many report the noise and vibrations to be rather unnerving. The feeling has been compared to a drill going into your skull.

Inner Thigh

You may not think that this would be terribly painful but the reality is, the inner thighs get very little exposure. Even though there is a lot of flesh and muscle, it is highly sensitive. It will also produce a worse-than-average healing process as it will frequently rub against your other leg.


Hand tattoos can be beautiful, but they will hurt quite a bit. The skin on both the palm and the back of your hands is thin and sensitive. The good news is the hands are not a very large space so the pain likely won’t last too long as the tattoo won’t be too big.


Like the hands, the skin on the feet is sensitive and thin. Not only are foot tattoos notoriously painful, but they also don’t tend to hold up very well. The feet take a lot of abuse throughout the day and the tattoo may damage or fade faster than others.


Armpit tattoos may sound like an odd concept, but people do get them done. It can be a particularly painful one as the axillary gland is located in the armpit and the skin is very sensitive.

Least Painful Locations

If you aren’t particular about where the tattoo goes, you can opt for a less painful location that will make the experience more bearable for you.

Outer Shoulder

what tattoos hurt the most?

The outside of the shoulder/upper arm area has very few nerve endings to cause pain. It is also a big enough space to fit most tattoos. For someone who is not worried about keeping their tattoos covered, it is also a highly visible location that will show off your art nicely. It is among one of the most popular places to get a tattoo.

Outside of Thigh

While the inner thighs may be painful and sensitive, the outsides get much more exposure to the elements and are much tougher. They are also a very fleshy area, usually with some fat as well. This provides plenty of cushion for the needle. Being big enough for pretty much any tattoo, it is a fantastic location for those who fear the pain.

Upper Back

The upper area of the back is another location that is not only large and versatile but contains very few nerve endings. It is also an easily accessible location and you can remain in a perfectly comfortable position the whole time.


There aren’t too many bones around the stomach area, and most people have an extra layer of fat on the stomach, even if it is small! This soft, fleshy canvas is great for those who hope to avoid experiencing intense pain during their tattoo. It also has the benefit of being private most of the time. It is easily hidden under clothing and you can choose when and to whom it is revealed.


While there are some veins in the wrist area that may be sensitive, the wrist is very small. It won’t be able to fit a very large tattoo, and therefore the experience will be short and sweet. Any pain you do feel won’t last long and you’ll have a lovely image to show off on your wrist, with minimal effort invested.

Behind the Ear

The spot right behind the ear is quickly becoming one of the most popular places for a tattoo. It is a location that is subtle, cute, and easy to hide. It also also known for being very mild on the pain scale.

Back or Side of Calf

While the calf doesn’t usually have as much fat as the thighs, there is a lot of muscle there. The needle won’t be passing over any bone and this makes for a fairly comfotable tattoo. If you are worried about pain though, do keep the design in mind. Be careful that it doesn’t extend around to the shin area, as this will start to get more painful.

The Artist’s Hand

what tattoos hurt the most?

Regardless of the tattoo you have chosen or your desired placement, the artist themselves will be a factor in how much pain you experience. Some artists naturally have a gentler hand than others. Softness can also come from experience. A brand new tattooer is still getting the hang of things and may cause more pain simply due to their lack of training and experience.

Color, Shading, and Outline

While there is no clear cut answer on this, the majority of people say that coloring and shading hurt less than the outlining. An outline is essential for almost any tattoo, but this can still be taken into consideration if the pain is a big concern for you.

Look for simple designs with low detail. Give your artist your ideas and ask them to design you something with a minimalistic outline, if possible. It is important to understand that it will not always be possible to minimize an outline as it simply won’t work for some designs. If you run into this you may have to choose to either bite the bullet or keep looking for a different design.

Breaking the tattoo up into more than one session is also an option. It may cost a little more in the long run, but it may be what you need to get through the tattoo you really want. Many people do just the outline in their first sitting and have it filled in with color and shading at a different date. This will minimize the length of time you are in pain and may make getting the whole design more bearable.

The Pain of Healing

While many concern themselves with the pain of the tattoo itself, they sometimes fail to consider the pain of the healing process. While it will not hurt nearly as much as the application itself, it is normal to experience some soreness and sensitivity while healing.

Depending on the location of the tattoo, it may also be in danger of being bumped or hit at times. Any impact on a fresh tattoo will hurt, and a hard hit can be quite painful for the first minute or so after. This will last for at least a few days while the broken skin starts to heal.

Some pain during healing is normal and should be expected. If the tattoo is extremely painful and/or irritated you should consult your doctor.