Rib Tattoo Pain: How Much Do They Hurt?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on July 15, 2018
    Last Updated: May 17, 2023

Some tattoos hurt more than others (and for longer) depending on many different factors. One of the many factors happens to be the location of the tattoo. In this part of our tattoo pain series, we’ll be talking about rib tattoo pain and how much rib tattoos hurt for most people.

How Much Do Rib Tattoos Hurt?

Rib tattoos generally hurt a lot and are high up on the pain scale. While tattoo pain is different for everyone, the majority of people tend to agree that rib tattoo pain is somewhat worse than most other areas. However, this isn’t to say that you’re going to suffer the same amount of pain or discomfort, though.

Rib tattoos are particularly painful for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the skin is thin and sensitive around many areas of the rib cage. The thinner the skin and the higher density of nerves, the more sensitive it generally is.

When the needles puncture the thin areas of skin around the ribs, the pain can feel quite sharp and intense when compared to the regular scratching and burning sensation that comes with being tattooed on many other areas of the body that have thicker or fattier tissue (such as forearms, thighs, back, and chest).

The second reason is that the needles will be penetrating so close to the bone in an area that has a high density of nerves.

When this happens, the tattooing sensation can feel very intense, and it often feels like your whole body is vibrating and rattling from the needles.

Although it’s not always that painful when a tattoo is being placed close to the bone, it is normally quite uncomfortable due to the rattling feeling.

You must remember though, that what getting a new tattoo feels like is totally dependent on how you personally can deal with the pain and discomfort. Everyone is different in this respect.

Rib Tattoo Pain Spots

Side of Rib Tattoo Pain

This is the most popular area for rib tattoos and is, unfortunately, one of the most painful areas.

The skin is normally quite thin around the area and many nerve endings are situated quite close to the surface. 

There are mixed comments about the pain, however. While some people describe the experience as ‘agony’, others say it’s not too bad and easily manageable.

Front of Rib Tattoo Pain

Although still potentially quite painful, there are a few areas towards the front of the rib cage that harbor a little more fat. This can cushion the needles slightly and damped the pain.

Sternum Tattoo Pain

Again, the amount of pain experienced in the sternum area appears to be quite mixed amongst people who were previously inked there.

What you must be aware of is that this area contains such little fat and such thin skin that it could be one of the more painful areas for you to get tattooed on.

On the other hand, though, plenty of people have said that the pain isn’t too bad, and there are areas much worse (again, these areas vary from person-to-person).

Therefore, you may just have to get a tattoo there yourself in order to see just how painful (or hopefully painless) it will be for you.

How to Make Rib Tattoos Hurt Less

Choose a Small Design

The ribs are very popular places to get tattooed, and many of the tattoos being placed onto the rib area are quite small and delicate, and these still manage to look extremely effective while minimizing the amount of pain you must go through to get them.

Pick a Gentle Artist

When tattooing an area as delicate as your ribs, you’ll want an experienced artist who won’t be too rough/heavy-handed.

No matter which artist you choose, you will experience at least some form of pain/discomfort due to the obvious nature of getting tattooed. Some artists are generally more gentle than others (and vice versa).

Use a Tattoo Numbing Spray/Cream

If you’re still worried that you might not be able to make it through the pain, then you might want to try applying a numbing product to the area before/at the beginning of your tattoo session.

Although the effectiveness of many numbing products will vary between people, many users are very happy with the numbing effect that their chosen numbing spray/cream achieves.

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 Zensa Numbing Cream, which contains the highest level of Lidocaine allowed by the FDA for over-the-counter use. The feedback left by thousands of customers for this product is nothing short of exceptional.

Just follow the instructions supplied with the cream and apply shortly before your tattoo appointment is due to begin so that you can look forward to a less painful and more comfortable tattooing experience. The amount of cream you get in a tube also ensures you have more than enough for a large tattoo. Click here to buy from Amazon

How to Care for a Rib Tattoo

In terms of looking after a rib tattoo, the aftercare isn’t too difficult and is much easier than many other areas if the body.

The lack of joints in the area means that you don’t have to worry about your tattoo constantly being bent and moved, which can delay healing times.

As the rib area is also covered up most of the time when in the sun (besides at the beach), your healing tattoo shouldn’t be too affected by sun damage either.

One of the main problems you might come across when looking after your rib tattoo is that it may sometimes stick to whatever you’re wearing during the scabbing process.

You can get around this problem by ensuring that you don’t do anything to make your clothing press against the tattooed area for prolonged periods of time.

Finally, you will want to keep the area well moisturized with a good tattoo lotion to ensure that scabs don’t become too dry and cracked, which can cause yor tattoo to lose small amounts of ink and become patchy.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan 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.​ Click here to buy from Amazon.


Rib tattoos can definitely be painful, but many people also advise that getting tattooed on the area isn’t as bad as many describe. Obviously, however, the pain will always be different from person to person.

In terms of rib tattoo pain – when compared to other areas of the body, the pain is definitely higher than average for most people, but not so excruciating that you should stop yourself from getting one. You must always remember that how much rib tattoos hurt is all dependent on the person getting the ink!

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