How to Get Tattoos with Chronic Pain

So, last week I got two tattoos on a whim. This week, I want to talk about the right way to get a tattoo, especially when you’re trying to avoid a flare up. I’m going to break it down into the steps to take before, during, and after. Keep in mind that these steps may vary depending on your specific diagnosis or type of pain. For me, it’s suspected that I have fibromyalgia, which means that I have an increased sensitivity to touch. This does not mesh well with tattoos. So, let’s talk about how the process should have gone instead.

Before getting a tattoo, it’s important to prep. That includes making sure you can handle the costs and the pain. During, you need to maintain open communication with your artist, and after, you have to take good care of your fresh tattoos. Otherwise, it can fade sooner or lead to an infection or flare up.

Before:

  1. Finding the artist. The person who is putting permanent ink on you should be someone you trust. Do your research to find the person whose art style fits best with your vision, and who understands what you want.
  2. Scheduling. For those with chronic illnesses, it might be best for you to be in contact with an artist who does same-day appointments. This way you can go on a day that you’re feeling your best to reduce the chances of a flare up.
  3. Picking the tattoo. Do whatever you want! It’s you’re body, and no one picks but you.
  4. Payment. Make sure you’ll be able to afford the tattoo itself, plus the tip. At the least it is common courtesy.
  5. Pain management. Take some pain medication before the tattooing. If you are able to, take an NSAID (ibuprofen/Advil or naproxen/Aleve). It will help reduce inflammation as well. But if you’re allergic or have other negative effects, acetaminophen/Tylenol should still help.

During:

  1. Pain. If you already have chronic pain, keep in mind that the pain from the tattoo could end up being unbearable for you. Have a tattoo artist who will be understanding of this fact (if possible).
  2. Communication. On that same note, it’s important to continue updating the artist on how you’re doing. They need to be made aware if you are having some serious issues with pain level.
  3. Breaks. You might need to take breaks here and there during a session to relax and tend to what’s already been tattooed. There is no shame in having to pause. Even people with no chronic pain have to take breaks sometimes. Don’t force yourself to push through.
  4. Multiple sessions. You may even need multiple sessions if your tattoo is larger. This could help avoid flare ups and allow you to recover between sessions. It’s the same principle as taking breaks. Don’t force yourself!

After:

  1. Pain. Continue taking the pain medication for the first couple of days after the session. If you get the tattoo somewhere that clothes will rub on them, them try to wear cotton and loose clothing. You will be sore for a while and you need to contact your doctor if you start having a flare up.
  2. Care. Follow the instructions that the artist gives you. Usually, they have a sheet full of instructions that you can ask for and if it isn’t your first rodeo then you already know how it goes.
  3. Infection. If you develop a fever, rash, of the tattooed area is overly red and swollen, contact your doctor or go to an urgent care ASAP. You could have an infection.
  4. Flares. Contact your doctor and let them know you’re getting a tattoo if possible, but either way you need to let them know if you’re having severe pain past the first day or two, or any symptoms of an infection.

Unfortunately, these steps aren’t a guarantee that you won’t get a flare up. These steps are not even what necessarily works for everyone with chronic pain, This list is based off my experience and what I remember from research before my first ever tattoo, but hopefully it helps! Drop down in the comments any suggestions you have for people getting tattoos.

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