Tattoos VS Arthritis

People constantly ask me if tattoos hurt. My answer is yes but that pain goes away.

It is also a needle I prefer way more than my infusion or blood draw needles. I am not a fan of those and my tattoos can make it harder to find a vein for my nurses.

I wasn’t about to let Arthritis ruin my dream of being covered in tattoos. It however makes it more difficult. I always hear “how do you afford all those tattoos when on disability”. Well I got most of them done before I was diagnosed. Disability back pay occasionally happens and it’s what loved ones typically get me for Christmas or my birthday. Hey, some girls like expensive shoes or purses. I can only hope I will finish them soon! But life gets in the way sometimes! I am happy to be able to express myself in the ways which make me feel comfortable and beautiful, especially when inside I feel disease disease disease…

I also am very aware I may have to get surgery where some of my tattoos are. It’ll possibly ruin the tattoo. I’m not letting Arthritis win that one.

And yes, they are there forever. Tattoos are for the owner. Don’t like them? Don’t worry about it. I didn’t get them for you.

A common question other patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis ask me is if they can get tattooed with this disease. With an autoimmune disease, that’s not a dumb question. We are at risk for infections and we have a compromised immune system.

The best answer is to first ask your Rheumatologist, all the meds and cases are different.

Mine said yes, as did my Rheumatology nurse. There are certain times I avoid getting tattooed, like if I am in a really bad flare or it’s too close to my infusion date. I typically plan my monthly biologic infusion (currently trying out Actemra) for the 1st of each month, that means I would book my tattoo during the middle of the month, 2 weeks after my infusion, two weeks before. This is to best avoid issues with infections and healing. I have never had any issues with infections and my tattoos but it can still happen. If you know you are in a bad flare, not a good time to get tattooed. Judge how you are feeling, if you have to reschedule the artist will have to understand. Arthritis happens.

When I do get tattooed I am as usual really tired for a day or two after, like any big thing I do now. Just plan accordingly. I have been tattooed three times (arm, neck, knee) in one week with RA. I was fine, I was just tired for a few days after and sore. Every case is different however.

Go to a clean and reputable shop. I remember when I first my my Rheumatologist and she tested me for Hep C as it can cause joint pain. I was terrified! All clean though, just RA. You can still catch Hep C at a clean shop, it really can happen to anyone, anywhere given the opportunity. Luck of the draw, doesn’t happen too often though.

Cover up roses by Lydia at Arcane Body Arts in Vancouver BC.

I also cannot stress more than going to a tattoo artist that you trust and feel comfortable with. It sucks being in pain, even more so having people see you in that pain. Important to feel comfortable with your artist. Our pain levels are going to be higher than the average client without a chronic pain condition. I find communicating with my artist important when I feel like I need to adjust my position or the pain is getting to me, I may need a break for a quick toke of the whacky tobacky.

If you are worried about it being more painful,

expect it to be and especially in areas you are going over joints. I have both of my knees tattooed, my right knee is my main bothersome one, with consistent swelling and pain. I would have to say getting tattooed over my right knee was one of the more painful experiences I have had with both arthritis and tattoos. I also find because you tense up during getting tattooed, your joints all over will feel a bit stiff and achy, especially with my osteoarthritis. If it is a spot you swell, then expect a fair amount of swelling. It does go down and you can ice it as long as you keep it from getting wet.

If it is a larger piece I will do outline first, then color a separate time. I have always found that typically the easiest for my healing process and sometimes pain tolerance for timing.

Skull and roses half sleeve/hand by Alison Lily at Black Rider Tattoo in Vancouver BC

Make sure you eat a decent sized meal before. Don’t stray away from sugar either, but don’t go overboard. Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after! Don’t drive home. I’ve always felt really out of it after getting tattooed, especially if I don’t eat enough.

Any pain med you take as long as they aren’t going to thin your blood too much. You don’t want to get too bloody for your artist!

MRI and Tattoos

You may hear that if your ink has any metal in it, it can cause a problem in an MRI machine. Very very rare. Can happen yes. My suggestion is to ask for ink with zero metal in it. I have had an MRI with no issues.

Products that make tattoos a little easier

Ink Eeze

Ink Eeze is a topical spray that is best for after the skin has been broken. The active ingredient is Lidocaine HCL 4%. I discovered this one when an artist used it on my neck. I was about ready to tap out after the outline and black shading. We still had color to do and this was a travelling artist. He sprayed it on my neck, covered it with plastic wrap and we waited 20 minutes. I barely felt the remainder of the tattoo and almost fell asleep during it! Wonderful product!

Dr. Numb

Dr. Numb is the recommended numbing cream before getting tattooed by what I’ve seen most artists and people getting tattooed. I normally find it too much of a hassle to do this before getting tattooed but have played around with it a little. Dr. Numb tends to work better than Emla. You do have to apply it accordingly to the instructions or it’s not going to work at all. It’s not perfect and I don’t find it lasts too long but I would recommend it over more sensitive areas for sure. This one contains 5% lidocaine.

Edible marijuana is wonderful for pain and keeping you chill! I found this to be the most effective pain relief for my arthritis and while getting tattooed, my go to when I can’t sleep due to pain. 140 mg of THC is my number but it differs for everyone. Have fun trying to find your right dose!

Your tattoo artist will give you advice for aftercare and cleaning. Keep it clean!

Happy tattooing everyone!