Elbow Tattoo Pain - How Much Does It Hurt?

Written by: Claudia

You’ve narrowed down your placement and decided on tattooing your elbow. 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.

Why Are Elbow Tattoos Painful?

You know when you’re a kid and you bump your “funny bone”, causing you to cripple over in unbearable pain? The reason for that immediate discomfort that seems to vibrate down your entire arm is due to the fact that three major nerves run through your arm. One primary nerve is situated directly around your outer elbow, and two in run through your inner elbow, and any impact or trauma to this region causes an instant pain-reaction.

tattoo pain chart

How Bad Do Elbow Tattoos Hurt?

Unfortunately, elbow tattoos rank pretty high up there on the pain scale due to these highly sensitive nerves, as well as the many bones that your artist has to tattoo on or around, in this area.

The Outer Elbow

The reason your “funny bone” reacts so negatively to impact or trauma is because of the radial nerve which runs up your arm and practically hugs your outer elbow. This equates to a very uncomfortable tattooing experience. You are also faced with the rattling of the needle on bone, which can cause extreme vibrations throughout your arm and even up into your back.

Some people feel that this vibration or jumping of the needle is actually worse than the pain of the tattoo, itself. It’s been known to cause extreme mental exhaustion as you try and overcome focusing solely on the rattling noise and sensation.

On a one to five scale, the outer elbow rates at around a four.

The Ditch or Inner Part of the Elbow

This little ditch in the inner elbow is what gives your artist instantaneous access to putting pressure on two major nerve systems and what makes an elbow tattoo nearly unbearable. The skin in this region is also very thin and has very little muscle or fat to add comfort to the tattooing experience.

On a one to five scale, the inner elbow, or the ditch, rates at around a four, as well.

Check out our Tattoo Pain Chart to see how much tattoos hurt on different parts of the body

Other Things to Consider With an Elbow Tattoo

In addition to the extreme pain and sensitivity, there are a few other factors that complicate the process of getting an elbow tattoo.

  • Elbows are notoriously difficult to tattoo, due to the nooks, crannies, and the wrinkly skin (particularly on the outer elbow), which may extend the length of your session. Your adrenaline and your tolerance of pain dissipates as the time goes on.
  • Elbows are a challenge to heal. This is because they experience frequent usage, movement, and exposure to irritants or environmental elements. This could make the aftercare process more painful or challenging for you.
  • Outer elbow tattoos are prone to fading quicker, due to the skin being moved, rubbed, and bent frequently. You should anticipate frequent touch ups for your elbow tattoo, particularly after the first thorough healing.

How to Minimize Elbow Tattoo Pain

Tattoo pain cannot be avoided, and depending on your own tolerance threshold, perhaps some of these suggestions will not be impactful for you. But here are a few ideas on how to minimize the pain of an elbow tattoo.

  • Choose a qualified artist. Select someone with experience tattooing elbows, and who can discuss with you how their method is gentler for their clients. The last thing you want is a heavy-handed artist who overworks your skin.
  • Start small and work up to a more complicated design. Though all needles in this area will be painful, it may help to start with a small, simple design that doesn’t require color or shading, and to work up to a more complex design after you get a feel for the pain in that region.
  • Use a numbing cream if your tattoo artist gives you the go-ahead. If you wish to use a numbing cream, discuss this with your artist beforehand. Unfortunately, the elbow is already difficult to tattoo and you don’t want to risk making it more challenging for your artist. If you get permission to use some, check out our article on The Best Numbing Cream For Tattoos.
  • Make sure you and your skin are in good health. Prep your skin a week before your session, being sure to moisturize and hydrate by drinking a lot of water. In addition, eat healthy foods, and bring snacks to keep your blood sugar up during the session. Healthy skin is easier to tattoo, and easy skin to tattoo moves a lot faster.
  • Ask for breaks if you need them. Your tattoo artist will happily oblige if you request a break when you are feeling too overwhelmed by the pain.
  • If this is your first tattoo, consider a tattoo in another region. Though we commend you for wanting to jump into the deep end for your first tattoo, it’s not recommended until you have an understanding of your own pain tolerance to needles and tattooing.

Our Final Thoughts

Elbow tattoos are pretty high up there on the pain scale, and this can’t really be avoided. With thin and difficult to tattoo skin, many bones, nooks, and crannies, and multiple nerves that run through your arm, you’re bound to feel uncomfortable through the experience. If you’re ever unsure about how much you can handle, we always recommend that you start with a small design that you can build off of later, to get a feel for your own tolerance.

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