Foot Tattoo Pain - How Much Do They Hurt?

Written by: Claudia
Last Updated:

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

Do Foot Tattoos Hurt?

Tattoos on your feet are generally known in the tattooing world to be one of the most painful places to get tattoos. Your nerve receptors in your feet are extensive, you are tattooing on thin skin, with many tendons and bones, and places that experience a lot of movement tend to be more sensitive overall.

The additional issue with tattooing a foot is that all the veins, tiny bones, and weird tendons make for an uneven piece of skin. You need to be aware that the feeling of tattooing over bone can be so uncomfortable for some that they feel it is mentally draining; it’s not so much painful as it is annoying. This causes artists to go even slower, extending the session of even the smallest foot tattoo.

The highly sensitive location that is also prone to being ticklish may also cause you to involuntarily twitch or retract your foot, causing even more problems for your artist. In addition, inexperienced artists have an even more difficult time in this area because the skin is so shallow, causing them to overwork, blowout, or even scar the area they are tattooing.

Of course, pain is relative to each person’s threshold, so what someone may find to be painful could be tolerable for another person. But, in general, most people do agree that foot tattoo is high up on the pain scale, ranking close to a five out of five.

Foot Tattoo Pain Spots

Top of Foot Tattoo Pain

With so many bones, tendons, and nerve endings, not only is this spot difficult to tattoo, it’s also really annoying to heal. As it rubs up against your shoe or sock, it will feel as though it is burning.

Tattoos here take more time because your artist needs to be careful moving over all the nooks and crannies, so be prepared for a long session with extensive pain.

Sources write, “Be prepared for more blood and possibly pain during tattooing. There are many nerve endings and capillaries in your feet and not much cushioning between the skin and bones. This can make foot tattoos more painful than tattoos in other places, and the added capillaries can cause a greater amount of bleeding. ”

Side of Foot Tattoo Pain

Although this part of your foot experiences the most friction and movement, and is generally more cushioned with muscles or fat tissue, this placement can be quite painful as well. The nerve endings here are even more heightened than on the top of your foot, and so the experience is slightly less painful due to less tendons and bones, but still quite awful.

tattoo side foot pain

Tattoo aficionado Claudia, who has numerous pieces all over her body, says that her tiny side foot tattoo was, “Hands down, the most painful of all. ” 

Bottom of Foot Tattoo Pain

This region is only tattooed by a few, highly experienced artists. It’s usually avoided for a few reasons.

  • The skin is not taut (it is wrinkly) making it difficult to tattoo.
  • The pain receptors on the bottom of your feet are extensive and extremely sensitive, making this experience excruciating; consider the pain felt when you step on a LEGO brick, for example.
  • There is so much wear and friction to the bottom of your foot that it will only last a few years, at best; this will require frequent touch ups which means repeating the pain, again.
  • This area heals poorly and is prone to infections.

Toe Tattoo Pain

These sensitive little piggies do not respond well to being tattooed. Not only is it painful, but this area is very boney, and is prone to having “ticklish reactions” such as twitching or pulling back your foot in response to getting tattooed.

The positive of being tattooed on your toes is that the real estate is small, so the session is short.

Learn more about the most and least painful spots to get tattoos

How to Make Foot Tattoo Pain Hurt Less

You won’t be able to completely eliminate the pain of a foot tattoo, but there are some solutions that will help make the experience a bit easier for you.

Choose a Small and Simple Design

First and foremost, if this is your first foot tattoo, choose a very small design to get accustomed to the pain. People always recommend that you don’t select a “matching pair” of tattoos on both feet because you won’t be able to know how much you can handle until you get one done, and healing a wound on both feet makes for a terrible experience.

Picking a simple design such as script, a small black image, or something that can be built upon later will allow you to see how much you can handle. Remember that the more color or shading your design needs, the more painful the experience will be.

It’s also important to note that because this area has thin skin and experiences a lot of friction and sun exposure over time, you don’t want to make your design too tiny or your script too delicate, because it will feather or blur very easily.

Select the Placement Carefully

Although almost all places on the foot hurt, you also need to consider the footwear you plan to wear during healing. Although the side of the food generally experiences more friction and a more difficult healing experience, it is notoriously the less painful option of the bunch.

You will have to pick your battle when it comes to a foot tattoo: more pain during the session, or a more difficult healing journey.

Pick a Gentle Artist

The last thing you need is an inexperienced artist who is scratching at your foot, overworking the skin, rattling your bones excessively, or has no comprehension as to where to deposit the ink.

Inquire into seeing your artist’s portfolio and ask them if they have experience tattooing feet. Some artists don’t enjoy it at all because of the fact that foot tattoos are known to be difficult to tattoo and they fade quickly. An experienced artist will give you placement and style recommendations that will make for a less painful experience, and will be gentle with your skin.

Moisturize Your Feet

For a week leading up to your session, you should put some more care into maintaining the skin on your feet. Moisturize them daily so the skin becomes easier to tattoo. We recommend putting a thick layer of moisturizer onto your feet and sleeping with socks on so the lotion is absorbed as you rest. Take a look at our recommendations of the best tattoo moisturizers.

Use a Tattoo Numbing Cream

Numbing cream can be applied on a region prior to being tattooed and this topical anesthetic will dull the experience of your pain receptors. If you are considering using a numbing cream prior to getting your foot tattooed, discuss this with your artist beforehand. Some artists do not like to tattoo over skin that has used numbing cream because it restricts the blood vessels and makes tattooing more difficult, and when it fades away, the pain is usually amplified.

If you get the go-ahead from your artist, have a look at our article on, Best Tattoo Numbing Creams For A Painless Tattoo Experience.

How to Care For a Foot Tattoo

foot tattoo pain

If you decide to proceed with a tattoo on your foot, it’s important to note that aftercare is more challenging in this region. There are a few things you should keep in mind.

  • Foot tattoos take longer to heal. With so much movement, so much friction, and being closer to the ground which means more exposure to irritants, foot tattoos generally take longer to scab up and then take longer to heal. For thorough advice on keeping your tattoo clean, check out our article, How Do I Clean My New Tattoo? - An Ink Aftercare Guide.
  • Keep your foot elevated when you’re not using it. If possible, you should keep your foot elevated as it heals to prevent any pooling of blood in the region which could lead to swelling, and could prolong the healing process.
  • You need to choose your footwear carefully. When exiting the shop, you should pick shoes that don’t put too much pressure on the newly tattooed region. Afterwards, you need to keep your tattoo uncovered for at least a week, and then wear loose fitting footwear until it heals.
  • You need to be careful with the scabbing of foot tattoos. Scabs on your feet are more prone to being ripped off by socks or by external factors, and this can introduce infection into your tattoo, tear ink away with the scabs, or restart the healing process.
  • Be careful with submerging your tattoo. While tattoos on other regions are easy to monitor when it comes to not submerging them in water for the first month, tattoos on your feet are more difficult, even when you shower. For more advice on showering with a new foot tattoo, check out our article, Can You Shower After Getting A New Tattoo? Tips and Advice.
  • Keep your foot tattoo moisturized. Tattoos on your feet are prone to fading, feathering, and blowout. Even after your foot tattoo has fully healed, you should continue to care for the tattoo to help extend the appearance and clarity of the ink.
  • Beware of UV rays with a foot tattoo. Feet are constantly exposed to sun during the hot summer months, and UV rays are the number one enemy of ink. Keep your feet covered, if possible, or apply sunscreen if you will have direct sun exposure on your foot tattoo.
  • You need to be okay with touch ups. Because tattoos on your feet fade quickly, feather often, and could experience blowouts, you need to accept that this is a part of getting a foot tattoo. If you want it to look great many years from now, you have to be willing to get touch ups or blowovers done on your old tattoo.

Our Final Thoughts

Foot tattoos not only look cool but they’re also a tattoo that is discreet and easily hidden. Remember that the pain threshold is different for all people, and what we write here may not be your own experience.

The only way to test if you’ll be able to handle the discomfort of a foot tattoo is to start with something small and see for yourself. The aftercare is always the most challenging part of a foot tattoo, but it’s always worth it when you see the end result of the crisp, bright ink on your feet.

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