How To Treat Foot, Leg or Ankle Swelling After A Tattoo

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 22, 2020
    Last Updated: December 29, 2020

Whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth, realizing a new tattoo is swelling up can always be concerning. After all, you just spent your hard-earned money and valuable time in a chair getting some amazing body art, and you can’t wait to show it off. That is, however, until you take the wrap off and realize your lower limb swollen to the size of a balloon. 

Luckily, it’s not an uncommon issue—just an uncomfortable one, especially if it’s your first time in the chair. Don’t worry, though, we’re here to help ease your mind and (hopefully) the discomfort.


Swelling of the feet, legs and ankles after getting a new tattoo is completely normal and should be expected for the first day or two. Ice and elevation can help to decrease any swelling.

What Swelling Means

If you notice that your new tattoo has swelled up, it’s normal to panic, especially if it’s your first experience under the needle. The number one thing to keep in mind is not to worry—swelling is your body’s first line of defense and a completely natural reaction to trauma.

One clinical study concludes that the tattooing process damages the skin, causing blood clots to form around broken blood vessels, creating a bruise. The swelling of the tissue around the tattoo helps to protect the area from further injury.

This damage to the skin means you have to try as hard as possible to care for the tattoo while it completes its healing.

Varying Reactions

The most common form of reaction on the tattoo site is considered an acute inflammatory allergic reaction, which entails red, slightly swollen skin that’s irritated because the body’s trying to fight the intrusion of the tattoo ink and needle.

Though you may be familiar with tattoos and walk around with some ink already, the legs, ankles and feet are entirely different regarding reactions and swelling. Other parts of the body vary in their response to foreign agents on the skin, therefore, reactions to tattoos aren’t a “one size fits all” approach.

Any part of the body tattooed near the joints will experience a significant amount of swelling compared to more stable areas. While most tattoo swelling resides within a day or two, tattoos on the feet, ankles and legs could stick around for up to a week.

Treating 

The lower body is more susceptible to swelling because most people spend much of their day vertical, and even those in chairs still have their feet planted on the floor. Fluid drains south and tends to pool in the areas of the feet and ankles specifically, though the lower and upper leg can retain it as well.

Gravity is both your friend and your foe here—as luck would have it, the feet, ankle and legs are the areas of the body that are most prone to swelling, but also the easiest to reduce, as long as you can stay off your feet for a little bit.

External Approaches

You can apply ice to help relieve some of the pain and reduce the swelling, still, keep in mind that icing is just a temporary solution. Icing constricts the blood vessels to decrease circulation to the area and will provide almost immediate relief. Remember 30 minutes on (or until you can’t handle the cold) and 30 minutes off. There are other options available to treat swelling.

There’s a variety of topical solutions to calm tattoos in terms of specialized lotions, balms and creams, as well as natural solutions, including coconut oil and shea butter, and antibacterial ointments.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.

Additionally, stick to loose-fitting pants or shorts to prevent compression in the area.

Internal Approaches

Keeping the limb above your heart will help with drainage, but it’s not always possible to stay off your feet that long. This is where over-the-counter aids, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, come in to help. Always ensure you have no prior allergies to your anti-inflammatory of choice and consult your doctor before self-administration.

Secondly, keeping an eye on what you eat and drink in the days after a tattoo application is a natural way to reduce inflammation. Though it may seem counter-productive, drinking plenty of fluids will help diminish the swelling and inflammation, in addition to laying off sodium-heavy foods for a few days.

Medical Concerns

Most allergic reactions to tattoos are entirely normal and no cause for concern. However, the person who knows your body best is you. There’s some normalcy to be expected with red, sensitive skin, a scaly appearance and peeling skin after getting a tattoo. 

That said, if you feel that something’s not right, don’t risk self-diagnosing. Remain vigilant and make sure you’re taking proper care of the tattooed area to minimize the risk of severe health issues.

Understand that there’s no such thing as an emotional overreaction on behalf of your body. If you have even the slightest hint of doubt or concern that something’s off, contact your tattoo artist, explain your situation, what the reaction site looks like and see what they recommend. Though unlikely, there could be a need for medical intervention.

Just remember that getting tattooed, especially in the areas prone to swelling, ultimately helps build up your body’s natural immunity to other foreign agents. How many of us grew up with the phrase, “rub a little dirt in the wound”? Of course, please don’t take the saying literally and head out to your garden to dig; we’re talking on the conceptual level.  

Conclusion

Swelling of the legs, feet and ankles after receiving a new tattoo is completely normal and an expected part of getting a new tattoo. Swelling is the body’s natural reaction in the healing process; it just so happens that the legs, feet and ankles are the most prone to swelling. Adding tattoo ink and a foreign needle on top of it only exacerbates the issue.

As long as nothing’s out of the ordinary, tattoo swelling is easy enough to treat independently and not a cause for concern. No one knows your body better than you—listen to it and treat it right.