Back Tattoo Pain - How Much Do They Hurt?

Written by: Claudia
Last Updated:

You’ve narrowed down your placement and decided on your back, somewhere on the upper, lower, or central area. But now you’re wondering about how much it will hurt. Our Tattoo Pain Series of articles looks at the most popular tattoo locations and gives you the rundown on what you can expect in regards to pain.

back tattoo pain

Back Tattoo Pain Level

Back pain varies on many factors. With such a large canvas, different placements react differently to the experience. In general, back tattoos are relatively low on the pain scale. But any tattoos that happen along the spine experience the most sensitivity to pain.

tattoo pain chart

Learn more on the Painful Places to Get a Tattoo

Low to Moderate Pain: Upper Back

The upper back along the shoulder blades is a relatively comfortable space to be tattooed. While all tattoos experience some pain, this region is said by most experienced tattooers to be the most tolerable, overall.

The only strange sensation that can be felt in this region is when tattooing occurs directly on the shoulderblades. This can sometimes produce a hammering or rattling sensation that isn’t painful but can be annoying. But your muscle buildup in your upper back is naturally quite thick, so there is a lot of padding that makes for a more comfortable tattooing experience.

Remember that the closer you move to the spinal cord, the more painful the upper back region will become.

Minimal Pain: Lower Back

Your lower back has more nerve endings than your upper back, and can experience more sensitivities to pain. That being said, in general, it’s very tolerable and overall quite low on the pain scale. This region usually has more muscle or fat across every body type, giving a lot of cushioning to the region that helps make the experience more comfortable.

If you have bonier hips, you will once again experience the rattling of the needle on the boney region which isn’t painful but is certainly a bizarre and uncomfortable sensation. In addition, any pieces that extend across the spinal cord region will be very painful.

Significant Pain: Central Back

Tattoos along the spine are said to be one of the most painful experiences, comparable to regions such as the sternum. This is due to the skin being very thin in this area as well as there being many nerve endings along your spinal cord. In addition, your spinal cord is a hill-like region of bone and these are difficult to tattoo over. This means that your tattoo artist has to be slow and careful which extends the session and minimizes your tolerance over time.

The nerves in your spinal cord are connected to all other parts of your body. The hammering motion on this particular bone will cause a sensation that could radiate through your entire body, causing you to twitch, or making other body parts feel numb while you are being tattooed.

Ways to Minimize the Pain of Back Tattoos

Back tattoos are not only spectacular but they are easily hidden, no matter the size. They are also a hearty part of your body which means the aftercare process is quite easy - even though they may be a little hard to reach. Considering where they fall on the pain scale, back tattoos are absolutely worth the time and tolerance investment. But there are ways you can minimize the pain.

  • Select your region carefully. If you choose to get a back tattoo but know you have a horrible pain tolerance, the easiest solution is to stay away from your spinal cord region. Everything else should be good to go.
  • Choose a different design. Whether you choose something smaller so that it just sits on one shoulder or you pick a design that doesn’t extend across your central region, with so much tattoo real estate available on your back, you can test just how much pain you can tolerate by working at building on your design.
  • Discuss your fears with your artist. A qualified and skilled tattoo artist will have a lot of experience working with back tattoos. If you discuss your fear of pain prior to your session, they may have recommendations for placement or designs that will be better suited to your skin and sensitivities.
  • Many people use numbing cream as a way to minimize tattoo pain. If you consider using this topical anesthetic, please discuss this with your artist first. Many tattoo artists do not like tattooing on skin that has used numbing creams for a variety of reasons. If they’ve given you the go-ahead on using numbing cream, check out our article on The 5 Best Tattoo Numbing Creams For A Painless Tattoo Experience.

Our Final Thoughts

Back tattoos are great. From the wide variety of placement choices to the large tattoo real estate available, the options for back pieces are endless. In addition to all this, the pain felt by back tattoos is quite minimal in comparison to other parts of your body. If you stay away from your spinal cord region, you can expect a very tolerable tattoo session.

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