Do Back Tattoos Hurt?

April 3, 2022
Max Stevens
do back tattoos hurt

Ahh it’s come to that time when you’re wondering if your new tattoo is going to hurt. So, do back tattoos hurt? They’re sick to look at, so it’s good to have one, right?

These types of tattoos have been growing in popularity. Part of that fame factor is the influence of artists and stars confidently flaunting their back tattoos. If your idol has one, and you’re inspired to get one, it’s time to worry about back tattoo pain.

But before you go to the tattoo artist, you need to think twice. Why? The most pressing concern about back tattoos: is pain.

If you decide to get a back tattoo and can’t tolerate the pain, you have a huge problem. Some people faint because of the enormous pain; some get their skin messed up with ink all over, and some people just despise tattoos after that.

As enthusiasts in the tattoo industry, we simply don’t want to see and hear testimonies like that. We want you to get your most wanted back tattoo with utmost confidence and assurance that you’re well aware of the pain and risks involved and okay with it.

So we’ve written this comprehensive pain guide to help you know about the factors, risks, and anything involved in a back tattoo procedure. Read on!

Are Back Tattoos Really Painful?

illustration showing back anatomy and annotated muscles
The muscular anatomy of the back.

Yes, back tattoos are indeed painful. Every tattoo is painful; whether a forearm tattoo, finger tattoo, hand tattoo, or wrist tattoo, they are all painful. The difference between them is the level of pain you can experience because of the anatomical structure of their respective body parts.

Anatomically speaking, the back is probably the widest part of our body. And it is involved in numerous functions such as:

  • Postural maintenance of the head and body
  • Maintenance of the body’s optimal sense of balance
  • Protection of the spinal cord
  • Absorption of external and mechanical force or trauma

In the case of the back, the tip of the tattoo pen can impact the bones of the back, such as the spine, ribcage, or shoulder blades, making the tattoo procedure painful.

However, if you get a back tattoo from the area where the spine sits, the spinal nerves can be impacted by the tattoo pen triggering more pain on your part. It can also be noted that the skin lining the spine is thin, making it hurt more.

The good news is that the back also has muscle fibres that act as paddings on the sides that can reduce the pain you may experience, as pictured in the image above.

These muscles act like a sponge or mattress that absorbs the impact from the pricking of the tattoo pen, which can make the procedure less painful if done on the specific areas we mentioned.

Tattoo Pain Factors

full back tattoo on man standing behind motorbike
Shirtless guy with a surrealistic forearm and back tattoos. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels.

Although back tattoos generally hurt, other pain factors are involved that will influence just how much you will experience pain and discomfort. These factors can either reduce or worsen your back tattoo pain experience:

Location of the Tattoo

The back is probably the widest part of our body (together with the shoulders). This means that the surface area is extensive, and a tattoo can be placed in either top, bottom, left, right, or the centre of the back.

As mentioned earlier, the sides of the back have muscles that act as paddings that reduce the pain the tip of a tattoo pen can bring. On the other hand, the centre area is where the spine sits, so it will hurt there more than being tattooed on the sides.

back tattoo on woman with short hair
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

And we have the upper back and lower back. The good news is that the upper back and lower back also have muscle paddings that can reduce the pain from the pricking of the tattoo pen.  

Tattoo Level of Detail

Tattoo placement or position will not matter if the design you’ve picked requires the surface area to literally be battered by the tattoo pen repeatedly. That’s why detail levels matter when considering tattoo pain. And if you ask why, it’s pretty simple:

Grab a pen and run it down the surface of your palm repeatedly with much pressure. Does it hurt? We’re guessing it’s a yes. Do it again, but this time, only draw a single line. Did it hurt? We think it’s also a yes, but it’s milder than repeatedly doing it, right?

Caucasian man tattooing back of female customer in tattoo studio

That’s the logic behind the connection between tattoo detail and pain. When the tip of the tattoo pen runs down the same path repeatedly, it will hurt badly.

So if you want to possibly reduce the pain of your back tattoo, you can opt to have minimalist style tattoos that don’t require a high level of detail. High levels of details include contouring, colouring, and shadowing that you can commonly see on highly-detailed tattoos.

Tattoo Size

Tattoo size also plays a significant role in tattoo pain experience, especially for back tattoos. The connection between tattoo size and pain experience is pretty simple:

What hurts more? A big wound or a small wound? We’re guessing your answer is big wounds hurt more than small ones.

Tattoos are technically wounds since the skin is being pricked with needles containing ink. And if you opt to have larger tattoos that occupy the entire surface area of your back, you’ll have a lot of problems with pain.

Opt for a smaller tattoo size than larger ones, so pain is reduced. The duration of the tattoo procedure would be shorter, reducing pain.

Physiological Factors

Numerous physiological factors affect a person’s pain tolerance that will also influence how much your back tattoo will hurt:

  • Age and gender – studies suggest a direct link between age, gender, and pain tolerance. Women have higher pain sensitivities, so they feel pain more, and men are more tolerable. On the other hand, older people are more likely to last longer in a tattoo procedure than younger ones, probably because of built-up pain tolerance from past painful experiences.
  • Body Mass – body mass, surprisingly, also has an influence on our pain tolerance. This can bring an actual dilemma since we’ve talked about how fat and muscles reduce the pain from a tattoo procedure.

The reduction in pain might have to do with the natural layers of fat in our bodies rather than visceral fat and unhealthy proportions of fat beneath the skin from unhealthy living. People with high body mass indexes have increased pain sensitivity. However, this is restricted only to pain resulting from external pressure and not from the heat of the tattoo pen.

Psychological Factors

Our mind also plays a significant role in how we process pain, and in the case of tattoos, our minds can be tricky to understand. Here are numerous psychological factors that influence pain:

  • Prior tattooing experience. Getting a back tattoo can be a walk in the park for veterans in the tattoo space. This is because they have had tattoos in the past, so they know how much it hurts. Veterans also have good knowledge of how to take care of a fresh tattoo which contributes to reducing pain in the tattoo site. The problem here is the newbies, as they don’t have an idea or something to gauge the possible pain involved in a back tattoo, which potentially makes the tattoo hurt more.
  • Initial expectations. The mind is powerful, and if you think that your back tattoo procedure won’t end up well, it would probably come true. In psychology, this is called catastrophising. The trick to get around this is to think about the procedure lightly and positively. Just remember: it will probably happen if you think bad things will happen. Think the other way around.

Tattoo Pain Relief

Since back tattoos are painful, you might have wondered what you can do before, during, and after the procedure. We heard you, so here are the tips you can do to possibly reduce pain before, during, and after your back tattooing procedure:

Before The Procedure

  • Use a numbing gel or cream. Using a numbing gel or cream can reduce the pain you feel. Before going into the tattoo studio, ask your spouse, parents, siblings, or friends to spread a thin layer of the numbing cream to the site you’re supposed to get tattooed on. You can also ask your artist to do this for you, but you may have to wait at least 30 minutes before the numbing begins.
  • Get a healthy sleep before the procedure. Studies suggest that sleep deprivation or the lack of sleep wears down our nervous system leading to increased pain sensitivity. If you don’t want to feel much pain from the procedure, make sure to sleep at least 8 hours before your session to feel better.

During The Procedure

  • Listen to your favourite music. Music can induce relaxation, which can reduce how our brains process pain and discomfort. You can play your favourite song and playlist and immerse yourself, so your brain doesn’t focus on the actual tattoo procedure.
  • Distract yourself. Distracting yourself can reduce pain. This works when the brain becomes too occupied to focus on the pain. You can chat with your artist, play a game, watch a movie, or chat with a companion if you have one.

After The Procedure

  • Listen to your artist carefully. After the procedure, your artist will inform you about the do’s of tattoo aftercare and don’ts.
  • Take an analgesic after the procedure. You can take a painkiller like paracetamol to reduce pain after the procedure. Although analgesics don’t wholly eradicate pain, they should be able to help reduce the stinging pain from your tattoo.

Do Upper Back Tattoos Hurt?

Yes, upper back tattoos hurt. The spine runs up from the lower back to the upper back, so it can still be impacted by the tip of the tattoo pen. It won’t hurt as much since there are considerable amounts of fat and tissue on the upper back and the right and left sides.

female tattoo artist tattooing stag on male back

However, it can get excruciating if we’re talking about the middle-upper back since the spine can still be impacted by the tattoo pen there. It would be best to avoid the middle area if you don’t want that much pain.

Do Back Shoulder Tattoos Hurt?

Yes, back shoulder tattoos hurt. Every tattoo hurts, and this area is no exception. Although you may enjoy reduced pain in the area since it has muscles acting as paddings that absorb the impact of the tip of the tattoo pen.

People with more muscles in the area are more likely to enjoy significantly reduced pain, like bodybuilders and gym buffs, since the muscles are denser and packed.


All in all, back tattoos hurt. But the question of how much it hurts is left to your decision on the following questions:

  • where exactly you would like your tattoo to be
  • how detailed it is
  • how big it is
  • how confident you are about your tattoo decision.

These factors are important to help you decide what’s best for you and your body. Pain, after all, is our body’s way of telling us what’s wrong and what seems to be the problem.

So it helps to understand and roughly gauge the pain a back tattoo may give. Regardless, you can always try other body parts if you decide not to get one. If you choose to get your back tattooed, we wish you good luck and happy tattooing!


  • Anatomy of the Back: Spine and Back Muscles

  • Nerve Endings

  • The Effect of Age and Gender on Pressure Pain Thresholds and Suprathreshold Stimuli

  • Body mass index and distribution of body fat can influence sensory detection and pain sensitivity,but%20not%20to%20thermal%20pain.

  • Emotional and Cognitive Influences on Pain Experience

  • Evaluation of the S-Caine Peel for Induction of Local Anesthesia for Laser-Assisted Tattoo Removal: Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Multicenter Study

  • Total sleep deprivation increases pain sensitivity, impairs conditioned pain modulation and facilitates temporal summation of pain in healthy participants,to%20cold%20and%20pressure%20pain.

  • Effects of music interventions on stress-related outcomes: a systematic review and two meta-analyses

  • The use of distraction as a pain management technique among nurses in a North-central city in Nigeria

  • Role of Body Fat Distribution and the Metabolic Complications of Obesity


Max Stevens

You might also like

do calf tattoos hurt
Max Stevens

Do Calf Tattoos Hurt?

You may be a newbie or a tattoo master, but if this is your first tattoo on your calf, then you’re rightfully asking the questions

Read More »