Think Before You Ink: What You Need To Know About Elbow Tattoos

Mandala Elbow Tattoo @tommbirchtattoo

When it comes to the most to least painful spots to get tattooed, elbows are pretty high up there on the pain scale. However, just because a placement hurts, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get your dream tattoo.

If you’re thinking about getting an elbow tattoo – whether it be an elbow joint tattoo or an elbow ditch tattoo – there are a few things you need to know to have the best tattoo experience possible and end up with an inking you’ll love for years to come. 

Blackwork Sun Elbow Tattoo @ritacorceiro

Why Do Elbow Tattoos Hurt? 

Tattoos placed on or around the elbow joint of the arm are considered to be elbow tattoos. This includes tattoo designs that wrap around the elbow, cover the entire joint, or are placed on the inner elbow (also known as a ditch tattoo).

If you’re considering getting a sleeve tattoo, an elbow tattoo will be part of the overall design.

So, why is this placement so painful for many people? It’s because of the lack of fat and muscle in the elbow area, which means that the skin is very thin and close to the bone.

“Vibrations caused by tattooing over bone can cause high to severe pain,”


In areas like this, there is less cushioning to absorb the impact of the tattoo needle. This can make the tattooing process more uncomfortable than other areas of the body with more fat and muscle, such as the forearm or thigh.

Elbow Flower Tattoo @whimsical.walnut

Do Elbow Tattoos Last? 

Tattoos are permanent. However, over the years tattoo ink does fade and your design looks less crisp, and some tattoo placements fade faster than others. 

There are many factors that contribute to a tattoo fading: The sun, the quality of the tattoo ink used, the experience of your chosen tattoo artist, and friction. 

Before you get your tattoo, do your research and choose an artist who is well-versed in creating elbow tattoos and someone who is an experienced professional. People often consider getting tattooed by an amateur at their home in order to save money, but it’s often not worth it.

“With high-quality ink, the tattoo artist can create a design that lasts for decades or more. The professional tattoo artists follow strict standards when it comes to how the skin is prepared for your new ink. Through an apprenticeship under a licensed artist, they learn how to properly apply this ink into your skin. These standards reduce the risk of infection or other complications occurring during the process,”

The Mad Tatter

Next, friction. Tattoos on the skin that are always rubbing against other areas or clothes will fade fast. You’re constantly bending your elbows and leaning against things which will impact how long your elbow tattoo will last and can make the aftercare process tricky. 

Jaws Elbow Tattoo @wiz_tattoo

Elbow Tattoo Aftercare 

The healing process for elbow tattoos can be more difficult than for other areas of the body because of the constant bending and movement of the joint. 

“Elbow tattoos take longer than most tattoos to heal because of the location. Expect some pretty serious swelling and lack of mobility for a few days. These tattoos seem to hurt more as they heal simply because they are on a part of your body that inevitably has to move, which keeps irritating it,”

Tat Ring

In order to help your elbow tattoo heal as well and as quickly as possible, you’ve got to limit your arm movements. So, you may need to take some time off work – at least for the first week – so that you can stay still and let your new tattoo breathe. 

Butterfly Side Elbow Tattoo @jonesthepilot

Then, you may need to change the way you sleep. Ink Art By Kate advises,

“It is recommended that you do not rest on the side of the tattooed arm. It is also recommended that you do not sleep with your inner elbow touching any material, as this could also cause irritation and cause your tattoo to take longer to heal.”

Besides this, it’s important to wash your fresh ink three times a day with sensitive skin, antibacterial soap, moisturize your tattoo with fragrance-free lotion, uncover your tattoo to let it breathe, and not pick the scabs that form. 

It’s essential to follow the proper aftercare instructions your tattoo artist gives you to avoid infection and ensure the best possible outcome for your tattoo.

4 Elbow Tattoo Ideas 

Popular designs for elbow tattoos include mandalas, roses, jaws, and tribal designs as they can move well with the elbow joint without completely distorting the image.

Elbow Mandala Tattoo @edgarwildtattoo

1. Mandala Elbow Tattoo

A mandala is a beautifully balanced symbol created by different shapes that piece together to create a circular image. This geometric tattoo choice has roots in religions, as Byrdie explains,

“In Hinduism, for example, it’s often embedded in prayer and meditation rooms, as it’s connected to focus. In Buddhism, mandalas symbolize the balance of body and mind. Even in Christianity, mandalas are often incorporated into artwork within churches.”

Color Rose Elbow Tattoo @john_lyon_tattoos

2. Rose Elbow Tattoo

The shape of a rose can be easily adapted to fit the unique contours of the elbow. For example, the stem can curve around the joint, while the flower can be placed on either the ditch or the outer side of the elbow.

A rose tattoo can also be combined with other design elements like thorns, leaves, or other flowers to create a personalized tattoo that relates to your life and experiences. Plus, a rose tattoo is deeply meaningful.

“While a bouquet of roses can represent multiple people, a single red rose usually depicts an individual person, relationship, or sacrifice,”

Tatt Mag
Shark Jaws Elbow Tattoo

3. Jaws Elbow Tattoo

To avoid the tattoo needle on the actual elbow joint, you could get inked above and below the elbow with the ball joint in the center. One of the best designs for this tattoo style is a shark jaw.

“Sharks’ sharp teeth and an open jaw can represent aggression and pain,”

Saved Tattoo

A shark tattoo, in general, symbolizes determination and an unwillingness to be a victim. An elbow tattoo of a shark’s jaw can mean overcoming fear and pain.

Tribal Sleeve Tattoo @tattoogian_studio

4. Tribal Elbow Tattoo

Tribal tattoo designs are versatile and a beautiful way to celebrate your culture and ancestry.

Commonly, tribal designs feature strong lines and little to no shading. The black ink contrasting with negative space creates an interesting design that’s full of meaning.

The elbow’s unique contours can take a tribal tattoo to the next level, as the pattern can be adapted to follow the curves of the joint and create a wrap elbow tattoo.

Red Ink Eye Tattoo @fannydxtattoo

Yes, elbow tattoos can be a challenge! However, because of this area’s unique contours, it can be an interesting and unique way to express yourself.

Choose an experienced tattooist and customize your design to work with the elbow joint for a tattoo that can be a long-lasting expression of your style.

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