Can I Get a Tattoo Even Though I Have Fibromyalgia?

Be Prepared for Lots of Pain!

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Question: I really want to get a tattoo, but I'm worried that it'd be a really bad idea because I have fibromyalgia. That makes me really afraid of how painful it might be. I've never had one before. Is this a really stupid idea or can I have the tattoo I really want in spite of my condition? Will it make me worse for a long time?

Answer: It's smart to think about this before just going in and having some ink done.

The first thing you should know is that, yes, fibromyalgia will make the tattooing process more painful. Our bodies don't respond to pain signals like other people's do; our brains and our nerves overreact and amplify the signals so that we feel more pain than we should. That's called hyperalgesia, and it's one of the central features of this illness.

Beyond the pain, though, is the question of aggravation. Some people say the vibration and noise of a tattoo machine, combined with the pain, can really set their nerves on edge. If you get anxiety attacks and have problems with sensory overload because of your fibromyalgia, you need to be aware that tattooing may trigger those symptoms as well.

Then again, you can find plenty of people with fibromyalgia who get tattoos. Some even say that it's soothing to them and distracts from their typical pains. In fact, a Google image search turns up a lot of beautiful fibromyalgia-themed tattoos. So, really, it's a very individual thing.

The Healing Process

You can also find reports that our skin takes longer to heal. For those who haven't been tattooed before, the length of the healing process can come as a surprise.

Essentially, a tat is kind of like a mild form of road rash or a sunburn. You may feel pain, to varying degrees, for up to a couple of weeks.

Be sure to follow the artist's advice about the recovery process and make sure you've got plenty of your pain meds available! Make sure you prepare for the symptom flare that could happen afterward.

As difficult as it is for us, do what you can to make sure you're well rested, or at least as non-sleep-deprived as possible. You probably know how much worse everything is when you haven't slept!

You may want to avoid putting clothing over your new tat for several days, which could complicate getting dressed to leave the house.

Also, you can't let it soak in water for a couple of weeks. Depending on where your tattoo is, you may have to shower instead of taking a bath. If you have problems showering, make sure you have solutions in place, such as a shower stool.

More Things to Consider

It might be a good idea to talk to a reputable tattoo artist about your concerns. Also talk to him or her about the placement, because where you get the work done has a lot to do with how much it hurts.

Ask about body position, as well. You'll have to hold still for a long time, and if it's a painful position for you, it'll be a lot harder.

Keep in mind that a small, simple design will be a lot easier on you than a large and/or complex one. Be sure to ask if your condition(s) require a doctor's note. Some do.

As you research artists, try to ask around about which ones have an especially light or heavy touch. Some artists cause more pain than others! You want to find someone who is empathetic and patient, as well, since you may need to take extra breaks.

Also, consider the timing. The average person can have a tattoo and go to work just fine the next day, but we are not average people! You might want to make sure you have a few low-key days afterward in case you need some recovery time.

If you do decide to go through with it, you might need to schedule shorter sessions than other people and make sure you've got plenty of pain medication. Ask your artist about the cancellation policy as well, in case you're having a flare and can't make a session.

Be sure you have a ride home, too, in case you have a symptom flare or need pain meds and it's not safe for you to drive.

Tattoo artists recommend certain things for anyone getting a tattoo, such as: 

  • Stay hydrated, before and after
  • Don't drink alcohol for two days ahead of time
  • Be well rested
  • Don't come in sick
  • Eat a meal before going in
  • Don't take aspirin or consume a lot of caffeine before going in (it can thin the blood)
  • Communicate about how you're feeling throughout the process, and before it becomes a problem
  • Plan to get extra rest afterward

Make sure you follow the artist's instructions for preparation and recovery and that you get prompt treatment for any problems, such as infection, that may come up afterward.

You know your symptoms best, so in the end you're the only one who can decide whether a tattoo is worth the possible consequences.

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