Can A Tattoo Cause Nerve Damage?

Getting a tattoo is quite a risky process if you think about it. A lot can go wrong, but side effects of tattooing are quite rare. However, one cannot help but wonder; next to all the things that can go wrong, is nerve damage a thing when getting a tattoo, or is it just a rumor that scares us into not getting a tattoo?

It is well known that tattoos hurt. But tattoos hurt more when they’re done somewhere on the body where the skin is thin, soft, and there are lots of nerve endings. Such a circumstance makes it quite painful to get a tattoo; thin skin means that the tattoo needle hits the nerves closely and even directly, so the brain perceives this kind of pain more intensely. These areas include the ankles, shins, fingers, private parts, front of the neck, face, feet, etc.

But, when you get a tattoo in such an area, or globally, does the needle actually cause nerve damage? Is this the real reason tattoos hurt? Does the needle keep damaging nerves repeatedly and we didn’t even think about it?

Well, if that’s something you’ve been thinking about, you’ve come to the right place. In the following paragraphs we will talk about tattoos and nerve damage, if it is possible and how often it happens. So, without further ado, let’s go!

Nerve Damage – Explained

What is nerve damage?

In order to understand the relationship between a tattoo needle and nerves during the tattooing process, we must first examine what nerve injury actually is.

Nerves are responsible for ensuring that impulses travel to the brain to function. Because of this, you react to different temperatures, touches, sensations, pains, you can feel the wind or the rain, etc.

When a nerve is damaged, the nerve is usually severed by an external injury, so the affected area loses sensation or motion. However, this is a serious injury; the tattoo does not belong to this category. This type of nerve damage is known as third-degree nerve injury, where nerves are severely injured, require surgery, and have less chance of recovery.

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Now, when it comes to small or moderate nerve damage, there is usually pain. Now, the pain is good in this case because it shows that the nerves are not cut; they still work. But the pain also indicates that the nerves are compressed, stretched, exposed to temperature changes, etc. This is considered a first degree nerve injury. This kind of pain causes discomfort, but the nerves can recover easily, and everything is fine in no time.

How does nerve damage happen?

Different degrees of nerve damage occur differently. For example, one can have a serious accident and get injured, or one can fall during a sporting activity and compress or stretch the nerves, causing them to be crushed or cut.

Nerve damage can also be caused or triggered by disease. For example, autoimmune diseases like lupus, diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, Sjorgen’s syndrome, or rheumatoid arthritis can also cause nerve damage.

How does nerve damage feel?

Nerve damage usually manifests as numbness in the area where the nerves were damaged, as well as muscle weakness. Additionally, tingling sensations occur in the hands and feet, as well as the feeling that something is compressing the area as if you were wearing a tight sock or glove. These are general warning signs that you should see a doctor and fix the problem, especially if you are not dealing with an actual injury.

Do damaged nerves heal?

Generally speaking, there are three degrees of nerve damage. The slightest nerve damage is considered first degree, while the worst nerve damage is third degree. It is important to mention that nerve damage of any degree can be expected to heal at some point. Unless there is a serious life-threatening situation, injuries and nerve damage, through surgeries nerves can recover and grow back if they have been cut.

It takes 6-12 weeks for a nerve to recover and regrow. Nerves grow at a rate of 1 mm per day. The aftermath of a nerve injury can take a month for the remains of the injury to heal. So, in the worst case scenario, you can expect 2-3 months of recovery time.

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Nerve damage and tattoos

Tattoo and Skin

Now, to understand the likelihood of tattoo needles causing nerve damage, we need to understand how tattooing actually works?

A tattoo needle creates a vacuum in the dermis layer of the skin where it then transfers the ink. This process happens incredibly quickly as a needle penetrates the skin at a rate of 3000 times per minute at its fastest rate.

The epidermis is the outer layer of the skin or the surface of the skin. The dermis is the inner layer of the skin, where most of the nerve tissue is located. Nerve tissue feeds the skin and extends receptors, which ensures that you feel and feel things, like pain during tattooing.

So the fact that the tattoo needle penetrates the dermis to transfer the ink would logically imply that there could be some sort of nerve damage going on. However, it must be emphasized that professional tattoo artists who use high-end tools never let the needle penetrate deep into the dermis, or beyond.

If this happens due to inexperience or artist mistakes, you are going to suffer a tattoo explosion. this means that the ink is placed under the dermis area, so the ink is not set up and it starts to spread beyond the tattoo lines. It also implies that the tattoo artist pressed too hard during the tattoo.

So can tattoos cause nerve damage?

Even if the tattoo needle comes into contact with nerve endings, nerve damage during tattooing is extremely rare. However, as mentioned, the deeper the needle goes into the skin, the greater the risk of nerve damage. This usually happens with inexperienced tattoo artists.

The risk of nerve damage also increases if you choose to place your tattoo in a sensitive location. Areas with thin skin and lots of nerve endings can be at high risk for nerve damage, especially with an inexperienced tattoo artist.

These areas include;

  • Feet and ankles
  • Elbows and inner upper arms
  • Inside wrist
  • Armpits
  • hangs and fingers
  • The outer side of the shoulder
  • Certain areas of the face (eyes, lips, temples, etc.)
  • Side of calf and shin
  • Behind knees and knees
  • Private parts
  • ribs
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These areas have extremely thin skin and many nerve endings. These are also, conveniently, the most painful areas to get a tattoo. So, if you want a tattoo placed in a sensitive place, make sure you have it done by an experienced professional. This way you minimize even the smallest risk of nerve damage or tattoo rash.

The hands, feet, fingers and toes are most susceptible to nerve damage, which usually manifests as painful and unpleasant spasms. So, if you feel such spasms, alert the tattoo artist and ask them to change their tattoo technique or ask someone else to complete your tattoo.

Final Thoughts

Nerve damage caused by tattooing is extremely rare. This, of course, applies to cases where a tattoo is done by a high-end tattoo artist, who has years of experience and is very professional. And, you should only get tattooed by such tattoo artists. To avoid nerve damage and other nasty side effects of tattooing (like infection, ink allergy, tattoo rash, etc.), only go for the best tattoo artists in your area.

If you still suspect that any nerve damage could occur, we recommend avoiding the aforementioned tattoo placements in highly sensitive areas. Due to the thin skin and the many nerve endings, the risk of nerve damage simply increases. So, to avoid the risk, go for areas with thicker skin, muscle, and less nerve endings, like thighs, glutes, biceps, lower back, forearms, etc.

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