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Wrist tattoos have a rep for being super painful. But how bad can it possibly be, right?

Turns out, there are a few factors that could make wrist tattoo pain better or worse.

Any tattoo’s going to hurt to an extent, but wrist tattoo pain is up there compared to other body parts.

The pain is not as bad as, say, having your nerve-rich nipples or lips tattooed. But most people rank it pretty high on the pain chart.

People put the pain anywhere between a 5 out of 10 to a “what-was-I-thinking” level of pain. That’s a broad range. But pain is subjective, and everyone’s different.

The anatomy of the wrist, for starters.

Depending on the side of the wrist being tattooed, you’ve got everything from delicate skin and nerves on the inside of the wrist to the wrist bone to contend with.

And, speaking of nerves, the nerves running from your cervical spine down your arms, and through your hands play a role in the sensation and movement of your hands and fingers. Tattooing over these nerves can be especially uncomfortable.

Other factors that may make a tattoo extra painful are your biological sex and emotions.

While there was no difference in pain intensity during the procedure between males and females, a 2020 study found that, after the procedure, pain intensity was higher for females. However, the authors note that their study had several limitations — so take these findings with a grain of salt.

That same study found that feeling stressed before getting tattooed increased pain sensitivity during and after.

Fear and other negative emotions have also been linked to increased pain sensitivity.

Again, pain is very subjective, so everyone’s experience is different.

Absolutely. Areas with more nerves and bone and less flesh tend to hurt more.

Pain intensity varies across different parts of the wrist, but the part of the inner wrist closest to the palm and the area over the bone on the outer wrist are particularly sensitive.

In the case of the inner wrist, the proximity to the palmar cutaneous branch of the median nerve likely has something to do with it. The palmar cutaneous branch is a nerve that, well, branches out from the median nerve throughout the palm of your hand.

The nerves send signals between the central nervous system and the palm, making the area especially sensitive to pain.

There’s one case study of an inner wrist tattoo resulting in hyperalgesia, which is a heightened sensitivity to pain.

Tattoos on the outer wrist are painful because of the proximity to the wrist bone (ulna). The vibration from the tattoo needle over the bone can cause a vibrating pain that isn’t intense, per se, but isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

The less fat you have over the bone, the more vibrating pain you’ll feel.

The sides of the wrist aren’t as painful. Pain gets less intense as you move up towards the forearm.

As long as it takes to finish your tattoo.

The intensity of the pain will change throughout the process. It depends on what the tattoo artist is doing, like using a single needle for a fine detail or going back and forth over the same spot to fill in color.

Once finished, the pain will stop and you should only be left with some soreness for 1 to 2 weeks that’ll gradually improve as your skin heals.

A tattoo shouldn’t hurt once it’s healed. If pain persists or worsens, it could be a sign of an infection or an allergic reaction, and it needs to be checked out.

Use these tips to help relieve pain during and after your tattoo:

  • Choose an experienced tattoo artist. The more skilled and experienced the artist, the faster they’ll finish the tattoo.
  • Avoid pain meds before your appointment. Taking pain medication in the 24 hours before getting tattooed can increase bleeding, because it thins the blood.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol before a tattoo won’t take the edge off. Instead, it will heighten pain sensitivity, increase bleeding, and possibly lead to dehydration.
  • Try relaxation techniques. Since stress can increase pain sensitivity, it’s a good idea to try to get your stress in check before your appointment. Practicing yoga, exercising, and doing something you enjoy can help you unwind.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink enough water before your appointment and have water with you to sip on during.
  • Don’t go in with an empty stomach. The last thing you want is to feel hangry while getting inked. Having a light snack beforehand can help with pain sensitivity and prevent a nervous tummy and dizziness.
  • Take breaks. Ask your tattoo artist for short breaks if the pain gets too intense. A professional won’t have a problem with it and will want to keep you comfortable.
  • Distract yourself. Keep your mind distracted from the pain by listening to music or chatting with the artist if they’re OK with it. If allowed, bring a friend along to talk to.
  • Follow aftercare instructions. Proper aftercare helps with healing and reduces the risk for complications.

No tattoo is entirely pain-free, and soreness after a tattoo is normal, along with some itching and crusting.

Anything more than that could indicate a problem, like an infection or an allergic reaction.

See a healthcare professional if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • severe or worsening pain
  • swelling
  • itchy, painful rash or blisters over the tattoo
  • severe redness or redness that spreads out from the tattoo
  • smelly discharge or pus from the tattoo
  • open sores
  • fever
  • muscle aches

Wrist tattoo pain can be intense, but everyone’s experience is different.

If you’re ready to proceed, using a reputable studio and skilled artist can make the experience easier.

To find one:

  • Ask friends and family for a referral, or follow local shops on Instagram.
  • Check shop reviews before narrowing down your choices.
  • Visit the studio in person to confirm they’re licensed, and check for cleanliness.
  • Book a consultation to ask questions and check out their portfolio before deciding.

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.