How Bad Do Forearm Tattoos Hurt?
The forearms are prime real estate in the world of tattooing, thanks to the high degree of visibility they offer for both the recipient and an onlooker. If you’ve been toying with the idea of getting a forearm tattoo, you may want to know just how much it will hurt.
The answer, as always, is that it mostly depends on your individual pain tolerance.
That being said, there are a couple of ways you can anticipate the unpleasantness that a particular piece may have in store for you. The first has to do with the way the body itself produces pain. The second has to do with the way the individual perceives it on a personal level.
Forearm Tattoo Pain
All other things being equal, the forearm is one of the least painful places you can get tattooed. That’s a good thing because it’s also one of the areas most likely to attract notice. As such, it can make an ideal location for your first, fifth, fifteenth, or fiftieth tattoo.
Having the outer forearm worked on feels a little worse than a light pinch or scratch for most people. The inner forearm may hurt slightly more, but not enough to be forbidding or cause unnecessary worry.
If you still have misgivings, keep in mind that forearm tattoos aren’t an all-or-nothing proposition. You might start with a small piece and work your way up from there, or chip away at a more complex piece over multiple sessions. There’s no shame in pacing yourself.
Either way, don’t let the fear of pain keep you from realizing the vision you have for your body. In the end, you’re much more likely to regret not going through with it.
Inner vs. Outer Forearm
The forearm is roughly divisible to a tattoo artist into two halves—the outer forearm and the inner forearm. Your outer forearm runs from the back of the hand to the elbow just outside the bicep. The inner forearm extends from the point on the wrist just above the palm to the elbow’s crook. Both areas are frequently-requested canvases.
Getting the outer forearm inked isn’t incredibly painful. In fact, most recipients only rate it about a 2 or 3 on a 1-10 pain scale. There are few nerve endings in this part of the arm to make the needle’s action feel something like a slight, yet constant pinch—no big deal.
By contrast, the inner forearm is the site of three major nerves responsible for controlling the movement of the arm: the median, radial and ulnar nerves. The presence of these nerves makes it considerably more tender.
If you need further evidence of this, brush your fingertips along your outer forearm, then repeat on your inner forearm and feel the difference for yourself. Now imagine your tattoo artist’s needle, and the difference is even clearer.
The Anatomy of Pain
You need to know how much a forearm tattoo is going to hurt. It’s essential to understand a little bit about pain’s physiology.
As you undoubtedly know, pain is a sensation of acute discomfort when sensitive nerve endings under the skin react to stimuli signaling some threat to the body. In other words, it’s a kind of built-in distress signal intended to alert the subject to a potential source of danger and motivate them to take appropriate action.
Examples of such action include the well-known biological ultimatum “fight or flight” (your tattoo artist will thank you for resisting both of these instinctive urges once you’re in the chair).
The feeling of pain can range from minor irritation to five-alarm agony, depending on the location, extent, and type of damage that serves as the cause. One of the main factors determining the severity of the pain response is the concentration of nerve endings in the body’s part where the pain is felt.
A Second Opinion
If you know someone who’s had work done on their forearms, it won’t hurt—no pun intended—to talk to them and ask them what it was like getting a tattoo. Although everyone handles pain a little differently, human beings are all “wired” the same way in regards to the nervous system, which means it’s a safe bet that your experience will be comparable to theirs.
Chances are, the artist you commission will have at least one tattoo somewhere on their forearms. Even if not, they’ll have worked with many clients who do, making them a reliable judge of how the average person reacts to the pain involved in the process.
Assuming you don’t know anyone who can provide a firsthand account, the internet is full of body art enthusiasts eager to share stories of their adventures. A few minutes of independent research should paint a more detailed picture of what to expect and help you make a better-informed decision.