Shoulder Tattoo Pain - How Much Does It Hurt?

Written by: Claudia

You’ve narrowed down your placement and decided on tattooing your shoulder. 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 Shoulder Tattoos Hurt?

You can rest easy knowing that shoulder tattoos are not actually that painful. In fact, they’re a pretty simple place to get tattooed. And with so much space available to create a detailed and expansive piece, they’re a popular spot for many people.

tattoo pain chart

With quite a bit of muscle and fat in this region, many people report that their shoulders were annoying but completely tolerable to get tattooed. Pain is obviously an individual experience and this experience could be different for you, too, but a few other factors come into play when determining how painful a shoulder tattoo will be.

  • Shoulder tattoos that are near the armpit could be more painful. Tattoo artist Helen Xu says, “Closer to the armpit, the skin gets increasingly sensitive [due to an increase in] nerve endings and more thin, delicate skin.”
  • Tattoos that get closer to the end of your shoulder blade could cause rattling or needle jumping, due to the prominent bone. This vibration is more uncomfortable than it is painful, but some people have difficulty distracting themselves from this sensation and become mentally exhausted.
  • Shoulder tattoos that are near the back of the neck could be slightly more sensitive. In a medical research study where a man stung himself with a bee to rate the pain index of various body parts, the neck was a 5.3 out of ten on the pain scale. This was slightly more painful than many other regions.
  • The more detailed and larger your tattoo, the longer and more painful your session. The first 15 minutes of the tattoo are often most painful as your adrenaline response kicks in, and your adrenaline feeds your pain receptors for around one to two hours. As your session goes on, your adrenaline begins to crash. This can result in more pain or fatigue from the needles.

What Does the Pain Compare To?

Pain varies from person to person, but here are some common experiences when it comes to shoulder tattoos.

  • Stinging Pain - This is what people often feel when they get a shoulder tattoo. The stinging pain is not usually as intense as being stung by a bee, but it can be annoying.
  • Burning Pain - This pain is usually felt after a few hours of tattooing, when an artist is shading, or when they are coloring in the tattoo. It feels like a severe sunburn that you cannot get relief from.
  • Dull Pain - After the first 15 minutes, most people report that shoulder tattoos switch to a dull pain that is merely annoying but completely bearable.
  • Vibrating Pain - This isn’t a painful sensation so much as it is uncomfortable. When your artist is tattooing directly over bone, it will feel as though the entire bone is rattling from the needle, even though the needle isn’t touching it at all.

How to Make Shoulder Tattoos Hurt Less

shoulder tattoo pain

Tattoo pain cannot be eliminated completely, but there are a few ways that you can minimize the uncomfortable sensations.

Choose a Simple Design

Shoulder tattoo pain increases as the session lengthens, so choosing a simple design to begin with that you can build upon later may be the perfect solution to managing the pain. In addition, choosing a design that stays away from the end of your shoulder blade, your armpit, and the back of the neck will also make for a less painful experience.

Choose Morning Appointments

Your adrenaline is at its highest in the morning, so if you’re able to select an early appointment, your body will have a better immune response to the experience.

Take Deep Breaths

Mind over matter reigns true when you’re getting a tattoo, and staying relaxed, zen, and stress-free will make the experience less painful for you. In addition, if you need to ask for a break to help alleviate your anxiety, don’t hesitate to do so.

Stay Hydrated and Keep Your Sugar Up

A nutritious meal and plenty of water will help with your pain management. Healthy skin manages pain much better, and keeping your blood sugar levels up will stop any lightheadedness or weakness you feel during the tattoo.

Use a Numbing Product

If your artist gives you permission, you can use a numbing product prior to your appointment. Numbing creams are topical anesthetics that dull your pain receptors. They only last a few hours, though, and the experience afterwards could be infinitely more painful. It’s for that reason that we suggest discussing this option with your artist beforehand.

Keep Yourself Distracted

Whether it’s watching a movie on your phone, listening to music, bringing a friend (with permission from your artist) to keep you company, or reading a book, the more you keep your mind off of the tattoo, the better the experience will be.

Learn more about the most painful places to get a tattoo

Our Final Thoughts

Shoulder tattoos are amazing. There is so much real estate to work with, they’re easily hidden for work or personal reasons, and they fall pretty low on the pain scale. Whether this is your first or fifteenth tattoo, your shoulder will be an uncomfortable but completely bearable experience. Remember to select a high-quality and gentle tattoo artist who won’t overwork your skin, to make it an even more painless session.

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