Back Tattoo Pain: How Bad Do They Hurt?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 22, 2020
    Last Updated: January 3, 2021

Our backs offer one of the largest canvases on our bodies, therefore, they are ideal for large, detailed tattoos, but the bigger the tattoo, the more painful it will be. While planning a tattoo, it is vital to consider placement, size and detail so you can prepare yourself for the duration of pain you’ll experience.

When getting a back tattoo the pain you feel will vary depending on the region, so a range of sensations will likely be experienced throughout a session depending on the specific area being tattooed.


Low to Moderate Pain: Upper Back

In general, the upper back is a low to moderately painful area for back tattoos. However, this area also spans a wide range of skin sensitivity, therefore, depending on your tattoo’s size and placement, it could be one of your least painful or most painful tattoos.

Most people have bony shoulder blades, particularly along the edge closest to the spine, which will cause significantly more pain as the needle moves across your bones. Similarly, along the very edge of your upper back where it meets your ribs and armpits, the skin is extremely sensitive and will likely cause more pain. A tattoo that traverses your spine is also more likely to be painful

Further away from the spine, where your shoulder muscle gets dense, the pain is significantly reduced. Here there are fewer nerve endings close to the surface, making the skin less sensitive and less painful for a tattoo.

Minimal Pain: Lower Back

The lower back is an ideal placement for tattoos, as it offers a larger space and the skin is much less sensitive than other areas of the body. There is significantly more muscle and fat on the lower back for nearly every body type, ergo it is perfect for those who are more sensitive, yet still want a tattoo on their backs.

That being said, if you have particularly bony hips, a tattoo can become quite painful as the artist moves across your hip bones at the base of your back. Additionally, large tattoos that go across your whole back will still be painful where they sit across your spine.

If you are thinking of getting a tattoo on your lower back but are worried about the pain, consider sticking to the sides and away from the spine. The space beginning just below the ribs and going down into the gluteus area offers a large canvas for a beautiful piece while avoiding the boniest parts of your back.

Significant Pain: Central Back

Tattoos on the spine are widely agreed to be very painful. While they are not as bad as ankles or the back of the knee, spine tattoos are on highly sensitive skin that is thin and sits against bone and nerve endings.

When it comes to tattoo pain, there are several types of pain that you can experience, though the kind that will stand out the most when getting a back tattoo is the sharp, stinging pain of the needle and the vibration pain. In particular, the vibration pain causes a significantly higher pain level with tattoos on the spine and shoulder blades.

As the tattoo artist moves the needle along your spine, the vibrations will spread throughout your back. The spinal cord can carry the pain elsewhere in your body, which is why this area can be so painful. It is generally recommended to keep spine tattoos small or simpler in detail, so the pain doesn’t become too much as the session goes on.

It Will be Worth It!

Large back tattoos are a significant undertaking that will take a toll on both you and your tattoo artist, yet they are worth it! Whether you’re thinking about getting a tattoo that fills up your entire back or a smaller one on your shoulder, the larger space for your artist to work with can help them create some of the most beautiful pieces of art that you will carry with you for life.

Remember, unless you are getting a tattoo only along your spine, your artist will do what they can to move from more painful spots to less sensitive areas frequently to give you a break from the more substantial pain.

For people wanting a little extra assistance for dealing with the pain, a good tattoo numbing cream can really help to take the edge off.

One of the most effective tattoo numbing products currently on the market is a cream called Numb 520. The feedback left by hundreds of customers for this product is nothing short of excellent.

Just follow the instructions on the tub, apply shortly before your tattoo session is due to begin, and expect a less-painful experience. The amount you get in a container also ensures you have more than enough cream for a large tattoo.

You should also communicate with your artist throughout each session to let them know if you need a short break. Take it slow and stick it out, even if that means multiple sessions. You’ll be happy you did!