How Much Does a Back Tattoo Hurt? What You Should Know

What is the pain level like for a back tattoo ?  How long does it take ? The back is the largest canvas your body has for tattooing.

That’s why many people aspire to get a back tattoo someday. Whether it’s a full back tattoo or a tattoo that’s located only in the upper/mid/lower part of the back, your back tattoo will be the cynosure of all eyes. Especially when you pair it with the perfect backless or transparent outfit.

But, is the back the right body art canvas for body art for everyone? Does a back tattoo hurt? If yes, how much does a back tattoo hurt?

We answer all these questions and more in this article. So, start reading.

Is The Back a Very Painful Location For a Tattoo?

Well, there is no straightforward way to answer this question, because the pain levels you’d experience during back tattooing, depend on where on your back you plan to get your tattoo.

Overall, the back is in the moderate-to-severe pain category for tattooing. It has a large, flat, and highly muscled structure – even without any weight training or body building done. Plus, there are many sections of the back that don’t have a lot of bones or nerve endings close to the dermis, which can otherwise make the back tattoo very painful.

Of the sections of the back that do tend to experience more pain, you’ll see that the area closer to the shoulders does hurt a lot. This is because of the proximity to the shoulder bones and joints. If you get the tattoo in the upper back, close to the base of the neck, you’d experience sharp pain there as well. This is again because the spinal cord starts there.

The area on the upper back that’s a few inches away from the shoulders and neck, doesn’t experience much pain because of the higher concentration of fat and muscles there. The mid-back is also moderate in its pain level, provided you don’t get the tattoo directly on the spine.

The lower back does hurt sometimes, especially the closer you come to the pelvic bone and the bottom of the spinal cord. However, if you have thicker hips and a bulkier waist, then your muscles and fatty tissues can reduce the pain you experience in the lower back.

Pain levels: How Much Pain Can You Expect in Your Back?

Coming to pain levels experienced when getting a back tattoo, we have to again look at each section of the back individually. When assigning pain levels for tattooable areas, we use a pain scale that starts at 1 (indicating least painful) and ends at 10 (indicating the most painful).

This is how each section of the back performs –

Upper Back

The upper back can hurt anywhere between 5 and 8, depending on how close the tattoo is to your shoulders, your neck, and your upper spine.

Mid Back

The mid-back can hurt anywhere between 4 and 7. If your back tattoo runs into the ribs, then it can be way more painful, going up to 8-9 in its pain level.

Lower Back

The lower back can hurt anywhere between 4 and 7, with the exception of back tattoos that are done very close to the base of the spine. In this case, your pain can definitely increase.

The Spine

It’s very important to note that if your back tattoo is done only along the spine, then the pain level can be anywhere between 8 and 10. This is a very sensitive area and it does hurt and inflame quite a bit.

Another thing to remember with back tattoos is the duration of your session. Often, back tattoos run very long sessions and sometimes go into multiple sessions over many days, because of the size or complexity of the piece. In this case, your back tattoo would hurt more the longer your session goes.

What does pain on the back feel like during tattooing?

Your back tattoo can cause pain in different ways. This depends on where the tattoo is placed and what type of artwork is being done. For example –

  • Line work doesn’t hurt too much, since the artist only stencils the design. You’ll feel some consistent, but minor sting.
  • Shaded tattoos hurt much more because the tattoo needle needs to be run over the back multiple times for the shading to be consistent and accurate. This can feel like sharp stabs that vibrate across your back or it can leave behind a burning sensation.
  • Tattoos that use white color will hurt more than those that use other colors or black because white takes a lot more time and effort to appear on the skin. White can make your tattoo burn and sting intensely for the time it is being applied.
  • Areas of the back with more bones or nerve endings hurt a lot worse than areas of the back that are fatty and muscled. It is a consistent, but severe pain. It leads to reverberating pain that can also create referred pain elsewhere.

Will There Be Pain After Getting The Back Tattoo?

The back – because of the presence of many bones and nerve endings – does tend to hurt for a day after the tattoo is done. After this period, you’ll experience soreness in your back.

What increases the chance of pain after getting your back tattoo, is daily activities. Unlike other areas of the body, the back experiences strain from many types of activities, right from sleeping to lifting to stretching, amongst others. Even bath times can become challenging, especially while toweling. This post-tattoo pain usually comes from bad or negligent tattoo care, when the tattoo is scabbing and healing.

How likely is it that the back tattoo will get a painful infection?

Your back tattoo is very susceptible to injuries and infections when toweling or when sleeping. Even the clothes you wear can delay healing and result in infection. Usually, you can find out it’s a tattoo infection if you experience the following –

  • Back pain for days after getting the tattoo.
  • Lesions that are red and inflamed.
  • Pus leakage from the tattoo.
  • Scab discoloration.
  • Fever.
  • Change in appetite.

If you experience these symptoms, it’s imperative to get in touch with your tattoo artist immediately for advice and help.

However, you can avoid vulnerability to infection if you carefully follow your tattoo artist’s advice for tattoo care. That way you won’t experience any pain or infection after the tattoo is done. Plus, you’ll notice that your back starts to heal quickly, allowing you to show your new body art off to others.

A back tattoo can become the crown jewel of your body art collection

A back tattoo is certainly the spotlight for many people who love getting tattoos done. You have so much space to get creative and try out really expansive and complicated designs on your back.

If you have experience getting tattoos and can handle moderate pain levels, then a back tattoo can be a great option for you. First-timers should consider their personal pain threshold and then decide whether to get a back tattoo done. If you want your first tattoo to be relatively pain-free, consider getting a tattoo on the forearm.

How Many Hours Does a Back Tattoo Take?

Most back tattoos are broken into multiple sessions over several weeks or a month depending on the size.

You should expect to require multiple sessions if you choose a large back piece, such as the geometric style full-back piece. It will take approximately 75 hours to complete a full back piece, depending upon the size and level of detail.

Follow The Aftercare Instructions

You should follow the aftercare instructions given by the tattoo artist, they are for your own protection. Keep your new tattoo clean and aired, follow your medication regimen and avoid water and the sun. Moreover, the pain associated with infection is much more severe than from the tattoo itself.

Should You Take a Painkiller Before a Tattoo?

Please refrain from taking aspirin or ibuprofen 24 hours prior to your appointment. You may need to wait longer for tattooing if you are taking these medications, as they can thin your blood.

Why Do Back Tattoos Hurt So Much?

In comparison with most other parts of the body, the skin around your ribs is extremely thin and there is very little fat in this area. Furthermore, breathing causes your rib cage and the skin above it to move, which makes the sensation of being tattooed here even more intense.

Aftercare Tips

There may be a sense of apprehension regarding aftercare for back pieces, since they are difficult to reach, can vary in size, and may be affected by the natural movement of your body.

You may wish to ask for assistance if you have a friend or family member who is capable of washing and moisturizing the tattoo twice a day for you.

However, for many tattoo recipients, aftercare is the responsibility of the individual, which requires washing with scent-free, hypoallergenic soap and applying a scent-free, gentle moisturizing cream.

Best Ideas For a Back Tattoo

Now, let’s take a look at some great ideas for back tattoos –

Large Full Back Piece


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A post shared by Pols (@pols_tattoo)

Portraits of Loved Ones and Pets


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A post shared by Sheila Pégaso (@sheilapegaso)

Favorite Cartoon or Anime Characters


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A post shared by | ANIMES MEGA TATTOOS (@animes.megaa)

Snake and Roses


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A post shared by fatima jaafari (@timatattoos_)

Outer Space and Moons

Greywash Dotwork


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A post shared by RICOGEOMETRY ༀ (@ricogeometry)

Geometric Blackout Designs


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A post shared by Riccardo Pini (@riccardopinitattoo)

Full Back Tribal Tattoos

You can find tons of ideas for back tattoos online, which you can share with your artist. If you don’t have a good artist, search for them on World Tattoo Portal. We have a great listing.