Why Do Leg Tattoos Hurt So Much After? – InkArtByKate (2022)

Before my 50th birthday, I decided to do something to reach this milestone. I had mixed emotions when my friends suggested a tattoo but were excited to take this bold step; besides, I had lived through half a century; how bad could a tattoo be? Despite having a high pain threshold, the after pain was on another level. Which left me with the question Why Do Leg Tattoos Hurt So Much After?

Dealing with a leg tattoo can be quite painful as it is the area with the least amount of fat and the thinnest skin and most nerve endings. The pain is further aggravated if it is done on the bone. If the pain persists, it is probably because the tattoo is infected.

Not sure if it is the quickness of the needle or the high pain threshold, but many people have expressed that they have not felt the actual pain during the process but find that the pain resurfaces after the process. I am curious to know why so much pain is experienced after a leg tattoo; join me to explore the reasons.

Reasons Why Leg Tattoos Hurts So Much After

With approximately 10-15 needle drops per second, tattooing can be quite a painful process. Everyone experiences pain differently; the tattoo’s placement can be a huge contributing factor to the amount of pain that one experiences. Below are some of the reasons why legs tattoos hurt so much after;

The Anatomy Of The Leg

The leg comprises bones that connect to muscles and tissue, with a thin skin covering. The leg has less fat and more muscle with nerve endings; it is no wonder that when you obtain a tattoo in this area, the pain is so intense. I have indicated why you experience pain after a tattoo in each leg part below.

Ankles And Shins

Thin layers of skin cover your ankle bones and shin bones; you can experience extreme pain in this area after a tattoo is inked.

Behind The Knees

The knee area has loose stretchy skin with many nerve endings. Each time the needles hit these nerve endings, it may cause some numbness. Often the full intensity of the pain is only experienced afterward.

Feet And Toes

The skin on the toes and feet is extremely thin. Although it is popular to receive a tattoo, the after-effects of the needle touching the nerves can cause painful spasms.

The above parts of the leg are where you will experience the most amount of pain; if you are experiencing extreme pain in any other area, there is a possibility that the tattoo could be infected.

Movement Of The Leg

The leg is one part of the body that is prone to quite a lot of movement. The calf muscle pulls up the heel to allow forward movement during running, jumping, or walking. Imagine having a tattoo in the same area trying to heal; further movement will aggravate the pain.

You may also experience pain when you shift from lying down or sitting to standing. It is almost as if there is a feeling of blood rushing to your lower leg and the sense of your skin starting to feel super tight.

I noticed that I would experience more pain at night; perhaps it was because I was placing more pressure on my legs during the day, considering that I would spend most of my days standing, and at night when I rested my legs, the muscles would contract and become tight.

Poor Leg Circulation

Lower leg tattoos tend to cause swelling and pain. Gravity makes the swelling travel to the ankle. Swelling is due to poor blood circulation in your leg. As you get older, your blood circulation tends to get worst. Older skin also tends to get bruised more easily, which could be the reason for the pain after the tattoo.

If you have an ankle tattoo, avoid wearing restrictive food wear or socks can also cause the ankle to swell. Also, ensure that you are not wearing tight clothing where the fabric will rub against the tattoo, which can cause a rash.

Poor After Care Routine

If the tattoo is not cleaned and moisturized properly, it can also cause infection and pain. If there is a bandage around the tattoo, it could be too tight. It is advisable to loosen the bandage and air the tattoo to heal properly. Keeping the tattoo bandaged for too long can also cause pain.

Weight Of The Person

Heavier people tend to have looser skin; hence you will experience more pain if you fit this profile. People with less or no body fat might also experience extreme pain.

Reaction To Trauma

Having a tattoo is almost like undergoing an operation but without any anesthetic. Perhaps the pain is the body’s way of reacting to the trauma caused by those needles penetrating those legs as it is getting inked.


Being inked for the first time can also be the reason for experiencing more pain afterward, people that have had previous tattoos tend to have a higher pain threshold.

Tattoo Could Be Infected

If the pain tends to intensify, you may be one of those people who has experienced an allergic reaction to the ink, the tattoo has become infected, or in extreme cases, a blood-borne disease. You should seek immediate medical attention.

Identify The Type Of Pain That You Experiencing

Burning Pain

If you experience something hot pressed against your skin in the tattoo area, the chances are the tattoo is still raw and the area still sensitive. Apply ointment and drink plenty of water and anti-inflammatories for the pain.


Although this pain is not as intense, you may experience numbness to the tattoo area. Numbness is natural as the tattoo heals. You may also feel that at a certain time, the pain intensifies. Try to keep your leg elevated.

Scratching Pain

Scratching pain is a very common pain, and as the tattoo starts to dry out, you will find that the skin around the tattoo also tends to dry out, and you will have the overwhelming urge to want to scratch. Scratching can only intensify the pain and cause scarring and redness. Apply an ointment and bandage loosely to avoid the temptation of stretching.

Sharp Or Stingy Pain

Sharp or stingy pain is one of the worst pains mentioned above. It is common after the tattoo but tends to ease off as it heals. Invest in some good pain medication and anti-inflammatories. Seek medical attention if the pain persists.

When Will A Leg Tattoo Heal?

Leg Tattoos can take anything from two weeks to months to heal. It entirely depends on how much pressure is placed on the leg. If you stand for longer, it will affect the healing process. Following a proper aftercare routine will also help speed up the healing process.


If you, like me, have had a leg tattoo, the chances are you are experiencing some excruciating pain. This pain has more to do with the anatomy of the leg than your pain threshold. Pain will result from multiple needles penetrating an area with more muscle than fat, more bone, and more nerve endings.

Although tattoos may last a lifetime, the pain experienced will eventually disappear. In the meantime, keep those legs elevated.

Some of my favorite designs, tattoo books, and aftercare products, selected for you

Why Do Leg Tattoos Hurt So Much After? – InkArtByKate (1)

Thank you for reading my article, I hope that you have found it helpful. If you would have trouble finding ideas for your tattoo, wonder what is meaning of design that you have found or what to buy for aftercare, to make sure that your tattoo will be healing quickly and easily, here are some of my favorite products in one place, hope that this will also help.

Design and tattoo ideas

For some ideas you can have a look at those 3 books with hundreds of designs that I use with my clients, they are available on Amazon for Kindle or in classic, paper version (links below):

Tattoo meaning

If you would like to read more about the meaning of different tattoo styles and designs before you will decide what you would like to have, I can recommend a book that was really useful for me when I was starting my tattoo adventure – it’s “Conscious Ink: The Hidden Meaning of Tattoos” by Lisa Barretta (through the link you can find it on Amazon for around $10).

Tattoo aftercare

The skin at the tattoo site often dries out. To prevent it and speed up healing for my clients, I usually recommend one of those tattoo aftercare balms (you can find them on Amazon):



Why do leg tattoos hurt so much after? ›

After getting a tattoo, the damaged skin swells up. This is the body's natural mechanism for protecting the skin from further damage and helping it heal. However, this swelling can make the area feel more painful or tender.

How much does a leg tattoo hurt? ›

Pain Level: 10

The thin skin on the ankles and shins, combined with the fact that the bones lie so close to the surface, makes these areas extremely sensitive when being tattooed. Survey respondents said the ankles and shins are the most painful places to get a tattoo.

What part of the body hurts the most when getting a tattoo? ›

Generally, the most sensitive areas on the body are the most painful to get tattooed, including: Feet. Hands and fingers. Armpits.

Are leg tattoos more painful than arm? ›

Any part of the body that has a little more muscle and a little more flesh will make for a less painful tattoo, like your thighs, upper arms or forearms, and shoulders.

How do you stop a leg tattoo from hurting? ›

To reduce tattoo pain, follow these tips before and during your appointment:
  1. Choose a licensed tattoo artist. ...
  2. Pick a less sensitive body part. ...
  3. Get enough sleep. ...
  4. Avoid pain relievers. ...
  5. Don't get a tattoo when you're sick. ...
  6. Stay hydrated. ...
  7. Eat a meal. ...
  8. Avoid alcohol.
23 Jul 2019

What drugs help with tattoo pain? ›

“You can take things like over-the-counter painkillers, but the sharp pain you have at the surface of the skin will still likely be felt during the procedure.” You can take acetaminophen (like Tylenol) or ibuprofen (like Advil) can help with any soreness that occurs in the hours after you get your tattoo, but there's ...

Does numbing cream work for tattoos? ›

Tattoos are painful, but there is a way to relieve some of that discomfort. Several options can reduce the pain, including numbing creams. These creams are a popular choice, and you can find plenty of over-the-counter options. Tattoo numbing creams do work well for many people, and they are safe in most situations.

How do you sit on your thigh tattoo? ›

Positioning Your Client: Basics - Thigh Tattoos. - YouTube

Where is the least painful place for a tattoo? ›

The least painful places to get a tattoo are areas of your body with fewer nerve endings. Think outer shoulder, calf, buttocks, and outer arm. While people generally focus on the location on the body, Stanley Kovak, a cosmetic physician, theorizes that pain is more about size.

Do thigh tattoos age well? ›

"[The longest-lasting tattoos are] on flatter, less abused areas of the body like the flat of the forearm, upper arms, shoulders, back, and thighs," tattoo artist Toby Gehrlich tells Bustle. "These areas can usually withstand the test of time."

How Much Should U Tip a tattoo artist? ›

As with tipping waitstaff, 20-25% percent is a good standard. An easy way to include tipping in your budget is to add it in when getting the estimated costs for having your work done. So, if your tattoo is expected to cost $200, with a 20-percent tip, that's $240.

Are tattoos addictive? ›

It's not uncommon to hear a love of tattoos referred to as an addiction. Many people believe tattoos can be addictive. (There's even a television series called “My Tattoo Addiction.”) But tattoos aren't addictive, according to the clinical definition of addiction.

What does a tattoo on the leg feel like? ›

Some people describe the pain as a pricking sensation. Others say it feels like bee stings or being scratched. A thin needle is piercing your skin, so you can expect at least a little pricking sensation. As the needle moves closer to the bone, it may feel like a painful vibration.

Does linework or shading hurt more? ›

Contrary to what you might expect, many people report that the shading hurts significantly less than the outlining of the tattoo. If you've already made it through your line work, pat yourself on the back. You've likely conquered the most painful part already.

Do leg tattoo sleeves hurt? ›

Getting a tattoo sleeve does hurt. What makes tattoo sleeves painful is not so much the location, but the amount of time you spend under the needle. Full and half arm sleeves take multiple sessions, each several hours long, so it's good to be aware of the process before taking the step.

Are leg tattoos harder to heal? ›

Tattoos on your calves and ankles can also be at risk, thanks to their location. As Dr. Fenton says, "The lower legs can be higher risk of infection just because the vascular supply is not as effective there. The farther you get from the heart, especially below the heart, the harder it is for the body to heal.

Why do leg tattoos swell more? ›

Swelling is more common in the fleshier parts of the body or where blood flow is high and close to the skin. It is reasonably common for new tattoos to swell considerably under the arm, on the inner area of the leg, on the sides of the neck, and on hands and feet, although any area of the body can bruise and swell.

How long does a leg tattoo stay swollen? ›

The first stage lasts from day 1 through about day 6. Your new tattoo will be bandaged for the first few hours, after which it's considered an open wound. Your body will be responding to injury, and you may notice redness, oozing, slight inflammation or swelling, or a burning sensation.

How can I calm my nerves before getting a tattoo? ›

But there's other ways to manage a fear of needles: bring a friend. Distraction is a great way to help you get through this. You don't have to watch the artist set-up. They know what they're doing and looking at all the needles may just aggravate your anxiety.

How do you numb your skin before a tattoo? ›

The easiest way to numb your skin before getting a tattoo is with an over-the-counter topical anesthetic cream that contains 4% to 5% lidocaine, which is a common pain relief compound.

Can you take a muscle relaxer before getting a tattoo? ›

what should i do before i get a tattoo? Refrain from alcoholic beverages 24 hours prior. Refrain from pain relievers, such as aspirin (Advil), ibuprofen (Tylenol) or any other muscle relaxers.

Why are tattooists against numbing cream? ›

While some tattoo artists believe the client should be as comfortable during the process as possible, other things numbing creams take away from the original tattoo experience and make people appreciate the work and craft less. Therefore, make sure to check your tattoo artist's stance on this topic right away.

Does a leg tattoo hurt? ›

Ankles and shins

Your ankle bones and shinbones lie just beneath thin layers of skin, making it very painful to be tattooed in these areas. Ankle and shin tattoos usually cause severe pain. It's about the same level of pain caused by tattooing over your rib cage.

Do most tattoo artists use numbing cream? ›

A lot of tattoo artists refuse to use numbing creams or sprays during their sessions. There's a few reasons, but most of them boil down to two: 1. They consider the pain of a tattoo part of the tradition and a rite of passage.

How long does a thigh tattoo take to heal? ›

How long does a thigh take to heal? With a proper aftercare routine, the top layer of skin on your thigh tattoo should heal within 2-4 weeks, depending on the size, location, and commitment to the healing process. It is important to note that things like sun exposure & infections can delay this process.

How do you sleep with a leg tattoo? ›

A lot of tattoo artists recommend sleeping with the wrap that was put on. Others recommend re-wrapping, or just applying healing ointment and keeping the tattoo clean. The important thing is avoiding infection.

What should I wear after a leg tattoo? ›

If you have a new tattoo on your thigh, wear comfortable clothing, such as jeans or a loose-fitting skirt, to avoid becoming uncomfortable. The healing process can last anywhere from 2 to a month, but avoid wearing uncomfortable or painful clothing.

How many times does a tattoo needle puncture the skin? ›

Pigments are lodged in the dermis

The tattoo needle punctures your skin around 100 times per second, with the aim of depositing the ink in a region of 1.5 to 2 millimeters below the surface of the skin. The reason for this depth of penetration is to bypass the outer layer of the skin, or the epidermis.

Where's a good place for a first tattoo? ›

While upper arms, forearms, thighs, and calves are all great locations, Brodsky says elbow and knee tattooing can be “kind of spicy, but it's still doable.” Tattoos on the torso hurt worse, she explains, because the skin is softer and lighter.

Are leg tattoos harder to heal? ›

Tattoos on your calves and ankles can also be at risk, thanks to their location. As Dr. Fenton says, "The lower legs can be higher risk of infection just because the vascular supply is not as effective there. The farther you get from the heart, especially below the heart, the harder it is for the body to heal.

Can I walk after leg tattoo? ›

When should I resume exercising after getting a tattoo? The short answer: Don't exercise for at least two days after getting the tattoo.

Are thigh tattoos hard to heal? ›

Back of Thigh

These are often the trickiest to heal because if you are constantly sitting, the skin can't breathe properly. As well, if you normally sleep on your back, you'll have to adjust for a few weeks while the skin heals.

Why does my tattoo hurt after 3 days? ›

The following may be indicative of an infection: Ongoing pain that worsens, becoming extreme: Tattoos are painful but if the pain intensifies instead of getting better, and becomes excruciating, unbearable or searing or if the tattoo is painful to touch a week to 10 days after it was done this may signal an infection.

How long does a leg tattoo take to heal? ›

How long does it take for a tattoo to heal? After getting a tattoo, the outer layer of skin (the part you can see) will typically heal within 2 to 3 weeks. While it may look and feel healed, and you may be tempted to slow down on the aftercare, it can take as long as 6 months for the skin below a tattoo to truly heal.

Do lower leg tattoos hurt? ›

There is a significant amount of fat and muscle on the calves, and few nerve endings, so calf tattoos usually aren't too painful. You can expect to feel low to low-moderate levels of pain here.

Do black tattoos heal faster? ›

So, while the healing process is estimated to 2/3 weeks, a colored tattoo may take between 4 and 6 weeks to have at least the surface skin healed. Black & grey tattoos – these tattoos heal much faster than the colored ones. The reason for this lies in the less intense approach to the skin.

Why do leg tattoos swell more? ›

Swelling is more common in the fleshier parts of the body or where blood flow is high and close to the skin. It is reasonably common for new tattoos to swell considerably under the arm, on the inner area of the leg, on the sides of the neck, and on hands and feet, although any area of the body can bruise and swell.

How long after tattoo can I shower? ›

This can be anywhere from 1 to 24 hours, depending on the location and size of your ink. If your artist uses a medical-grade, waterproof bandage, like Saniderm, you can shower anytime — as long as you keep the bandage on for the length of time the artist told you to.

How do you sleep with a leg tattoo? ›

A lot of tattoo artists recommend sleeping with the wrap that was put on. Others recommend re-wrapping, or just applying healing ointment and keeping the tattoo clean. The important thing is avoiding infection.

How do you sit on your thigh tattoo? ›

A tattoo session on the front of your thigh will involve you lying flat on your back — perhaps one of the more relaxed session positions for thigh tattoo art. You may want to use a topical anesthetic to numb up your thigh before your session or a numbing spray to reduce inflammation during the session.

What should I wear with a thigh tattoo? ›

The Takeaway. A thigh tattoo is a beautiful thing. Wear something loose like a dress or sweat pants for the tattoo session, and for the full duration of the healing period, which can be up to six months. Don't skimp on the aftercare and avoid exercise while the tat heals.

How long should a tattoo sting for? ›

In this stage, your body mobilizes its first responders to injury, and you might notice a slight stinging or burning sensation resulting from inflammation at the site of the tattoo. That sensation, which lasts a week, on average, is your body working hard to patch things up and prevent infection.

Does numbing cream affect tattoo? ›

Don't worry about the ink and blood on the skin. Anesthetic cream doesn't care about ink and blood. Let it sit for a couple minutes before washing the skin once again, and then you can get right back to tattooing!

Can you put ice on a tattoo? ›

If some swelling/redness is present the day after your tattoo, and it is uncomfortable or bothering you, it is appropriate to use ice (20 minutes) and/or an NSAID (ibuprofen, Advil, aleve, naproxen) to help bring the swelling down.

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