Rib Tattoo Pain - How Bad Do They Hurt?

Written by: Claudia

You’ve narrowed down your placement and decided on your ribs. 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.

How Much Do Rib Tattoos Hurt?

Because of the thin skin, many nerve endings, and prominent bones, many people feel that rib tattoos are exceptionally high on the pain scale. That being said, everyone works from a different pain threshold, and many people only experience rib tattoo pain after the adrenaline wears off, around the third hour of tattooing, or when they return for touch ups on the rib area.

Some people have described the pain as just being annoying and mentally draining due to the fact that the needle will rattle on the bone. In some other cases, there are hyper-sensitive spots along the rib cage that could cause a knee-jerk twitching reaction to the sharp pains.

Of course, if you are fleshier or have more muscle in this area, your experience of the pain could be a lot lower. The same can be said if you simply have a high pain tolerance.

tattoo pain chart

What Does Rib Tattoo Pain Feel Like?

People have described rib tattoos as such:

  • Like someone using sandpaper to scratch over a severe sunburn
  • Like your bones are shaking and the sensation goes through your whole body
  • As though it is throbbing, burning, and stinging all at the same time
  • Like the needle is being scraped slowly against your skin

Remember that everyone experiences pain differently, and some people have said that the pain for rib tattoos only begins as you head into your third hour of tattooing, once your adrenaline wears off.

Rib Tattoo Tattoo Pain Spots

Side of Rib

This is one of the most popular places for tattoos due to how discreet they can be and because of the large amount of real estate available. Skin around this area has many nerve endings and it’s usually very boney. The lower you go on the ribs, the less it seems to hurt.

Pain experiences for side of rib tattoos is quite varied, with some people saying it is unbearable, while others say it’s only slightly uncomfortable.

Tattoo aficionado Claudia said her rib tattoo done with a single lining needle didn’t hurt, but the touch up was terrible.

Front of Rib

Areas towards the front of your ribcage usually have rib cage bones that are less exposed and therefore, are generally more tolerable of the tattooing experience.

Sternum Area

As soon as you bring your rib tattoo close to your sternum, the pain will definitely heighten. Most people report the sternum as being one of the most painful areas to tattoo, where it feels as though someone is scratching over a severely sunburned area continuously.

More on painful tattoo spots

How to Make Rib Tattoos Hurt Less

rib tattoo pain

Choose a Small Design

The easiest way to test out your individual pain tolerance is to start small on the rib area and then expand upon your design later. Small tattoos near the ribs are very attractive and popular pieces, and it will give you a feel for how you'll be able to handle a larger session.

If this is your first tattoo, discuss this placement with your artist. They may also recommend that you choose something simple so that you can accustom yourself to the sensation. Because of the rattling on highly sensitive boney area, some people can find this area to be mentally draining; choosing a small design will help you discover if you can power through.

In addition, simple designs such as script, line drawings, or pointillism, will be far less intense than designs requiring thicker needles that need to shade or color over the area.

Research Your Artist Carefully

Some artists have a lot of experience doing rib tattoos, so don’t hesitate to ask your artist to see a portfolio of their work. Look for an artist who isn’t heavy-handed and will not need to overwork the area, as that’s what causes most of the pain for rib tattoos.

Use a Numbing Cream

If you think you will not be able to tolerate the sensation of a rib tattoo, you could use a topical anesthetic like numbing cream prior to your tattoo session. Numbing cream restricts your blood vessels, dulling the experience of your pain receptors.

Because of the effect that numbing cream can have on your blood vessels, some artists do not like to tattoo skin that has had numbing cream applied. If you wish to use a product prior to your session, discuss this with your artist during your consultation.

How to Care for a Rib Tattoo

Since a rib tattoo is located close to your heart, it will actually heal quite quickly and with minimal complications. In addition, this area experiences very little movement and little exposure to external irritants, so with a careful aftercare process, it will heal in no time.

The only concern that can arise when healing a rib tattoo is if you wear a bra or chest compression device. This could severely complicate the healing process or cause scabbing issues. For more information about this, check out our article, Is It Safe To Wear A Bra With A New Tattoo?

Our Final Thoughts

Rib tattoos are awesome because of the space you have to create something incredible, along with how easily hidden they are. But rib tattoos are believed by many to be one of the most painful spots to get tattooed. If this is your first rib tattoo, discuss your fear of the pain with your artist who may give you suggestions or will help you alter the design in order to “test out” your pain threshold for the region.

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