Will it Hurt - Pain Tolerance vs Threshold


Pain is super subjective, and there is no fool proof way to answer these questions. Something that’s super painful for one person may be no big deal to someone else.


Pain Tolerance

‘Pain tolerance’ means the maximum amount of pain that a person can bear. People with low pain tolerance will tap out sooner once they start to feel pain, it becomes unbearable quickly. People with high pain tolerance can force themselves to sit though even the most painful tattoos, despite the pain.


Pain Threshold

‘Pain threshold’ means the minimum amount of sensation that your body can tolerate before you register it as pain. People with low pain thresholds will experience pain more quickly. People with higher pain thresholds may sit through their appointment easily without registering much pain. It’s not entirely uncommon for people to fall asleep while being tattooed!


How this affects you 



You could have a high pain threshold and low pain tolerance – so you don’t feel the pain for a long time, but when you do it’s quickly too much and you have to stop.


You could have low pain threshold and high pain tolerance – so you feel the pain right away and it’s terrible, but you can sit for a long time anyway.


What does it all mean?  

You can see how a question like ‘how much will it hurt’ is impossible to answer. Even if it does hurt a lot, that fact alone may or may not affect your ability to sit through your appointment.


If you’re trying to figure out how well you might sit for an appointment, think about other painful experiences in your life. Generally, the more pain you’ve experienced, the higher your tolerance and/or threshold can get.


For example – if you played a lot of sports as a kid, fell down and got hurt a lot, broke bones – your body has more context for pain and you may sit more easily.


But which body parts hurt most?

Again, this can be way subjective. I had a miserable time getting my knee cap tattooed and had to split the tattoo into two sessions. Two days later I watched a client sit through a similar tattoo on their kneecap, all in one go. They said it was ‘not that bad’. 


Generally speaking, tattooing over muscles will be easier (bicep, forearm, thigh, calf). Over bones will be less fun (spine, shin bone), and connective tissue, joints, and organs will be the worst (inside of the elbow/knee, inner wrist, stomach). 


What can I do?

Everyone is always worried about pain, but there are lots of things that you can do to help create a better tattoo experience for yourself.


Your body is like a vehicle, and if it’s tuned up and well fueled, it’ll run better and longer. That means that you’ll have a better and less painful appointment if you take good care of yourself leading up to your appointment!


I suggest the following:  

  • Week before: Drink lots of water
  • Day before: No alcohol, get lots of sleep
  • Day of: Big breakfast including carbs and protein, lots of water, minimal caffeine  
  • Bring to your appointment: Water, sugary drink, snack  



There really isn’t one. The short answer is; it’s different for everyone, and you’ll just have to start getting tattooed to find out!  


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