Tattoos are an obsession for me. I have two half sleeves (over my shoulder, down to my elbow), across my upper and lower back, plus my right wrist. These were completed before and after developing Fibromyalgia.
Whether you're interested in getting a specific Fibromyalgia tattoo for commemoration, awareness or solidarity purposes, or are just interested in tattoos in general, there are some considerations to be aware of.
Tattooing – A Brief History
Tattoos are generally seen as an act of rebellion, but I feel this is an old-fashioned attitude. They have been around for more than 12,000 years. There was a well-preserved tattooed mummy, found dating back to the fourth millennium BC, in the Ötz valley of the Alps.
Tattoos were seen as barbaric in the 16th century western civilization. In the 19th century, tattoos were seen as something common folk had. In the 20th century, it is seen as an art form, and you would struggle finding someone that does not have or know someone with a tattoo.
There are different reasons why people get tattoos:
- Permanent makeup: this can be applied to the eyes, mouth, etc. and removes the need to use makeup on these areas.
- Temporary tattoos (Henna) can be applied if you do not want a permanent tattoo. These can sometimes cause an allergic reaction. Therefore, always conduct a skin test first.
- Religion, beliefs and community social classes: tribes and communities across the globe use tattoos to show their social standing.
- Mementos: a design that documents life, the picture of a child, a favorite band, movie star, slogan or commemoration of a lost one, etc.
- Medical History: this can include tattoos to aid the area for radiotherapy. Soldiers sometimes have their blood type tattooed, in case of battle. Tattoos that symbolize chronic illnesses, such as Fibromyalgia, are used to enable patients to alert others of their illness or show signs of solidarity.
Why Get a Tattoo and Other Considerations?
This is a personal choice, and my advice is to never have a tattoo to please others; you could later regret it and want it removed, which is more painful than the original tattoo.
Think about why you want one. Do you need the design out of sight of others (say for work purposes)? Or, do you want the tattoo on display? Remember, some places on the body are more painful than others. Also, you need to consider the size. An experienced and professional tattoo artist can answer all your questions and help you figure out the details.
Does It Make a Difference Having Fibromyalgia?
Since developing Fibromyalgia, tattooing is more painful. I use a strong numbing cream prior to my session. I now get enough pain relief to last one to two hours. However, once the numbing agent wears off, the pain tends to come back all at once, and this tends to flare up my Fibromyalgia for a day or two. But, this is not to say that you would, as everyone is different.
How Much Do They Cost?
This very much depends on the length of time it takes to tattoo your design and the artist chosen. The price ranges are so varied; you can pay anything from $80 up to $200 per hour and beyond, depending on the artist’s talents, reputation and work needed.
What Are the Risks?
Every change you chose to make will have pros and cons, whether it is an ear piercing, hair colorant or a tattoo. You have to make yourself aware of these, before you decide to go ahead:
Infections: infections can be transmitted by tattoo tools by coming into contact with bodily fluids. Items need to be properly sterilized, to reduce the risk of transmitting diseases like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tuberculosis and HIV.
Allergic reactions: these are rare but possible. Skin can react to ink, especially when exposed to sunlight. Personally, I use an organic sunscreen at all times. One known risk, for instance, is that eczematous dermatitis can appear from months to as many as 20 years after a tattoo.
MRI reaction: tattoos that have large areas of black ink can, in rare cases, cause problems during MRI scans. Black ink has iron oxide and MRI scanners can cause the iron to heat up by inducing an electrical current in it. However, this is rare and having a tattoo should not stop you from getting an MRI scan if necessary. I have had over 20 MRIs, mostly on my full spine, and have never had a reaction. If you have concerns, speak to your doctor about this first.
Dermal conditions: tattoo pigments can trigger conditions like granulomas, various lichenoid diseases and contact dermatitis.
Hematoma (bruise): if a tattooing needle punctures a blood vessel, bruises can appear, and these usually heal in a week.
Blood thinners and alcohol: being on blood thinners and consuming alcohol can make tattooing difficult because they make bleeding stronger.
Lack of FDA approval: they neither regulate tattooing nor tattoo ink, especially in ultraviolet (UV) inks and the glow-in-the-dark inks.
Given My Fibromyalgia, What Precautions Should I Take?
Much of the precautions those with Fibromyalgia should take are the same as for everyone else:
- Conduct an analysis of tattoo artists: read reviews, ask to see their portfolio and speak to previous customers.
- Assess the tattoo shop: how long has the shop been open? Check out their credentials and insurance. Is the shop clean? Are the staff happy and friendly? Is the shop busy? Are they following health and safety; do they have on gloves and a mask? Is the chair or bed clean and is clean cling film used on the tattoo furniture?
- Cost versus quality: some tattoo shops can charge premium rates, but this does not always mean they offer the best quality. Remember, you will have this tattoo for life.
- Be honest about your medical history and your Fibromyalgia: the tattoo artist should always ask about your medical history, they should offer you some advice for pre and post tattoo visit, that could help you heal better (such as the use of healing creams).
- Your personal pain threshold and the types of pain you experience are especially important to consider when you have Fibromyalgia. I would recommend that those with Fibromyalgia have shorter sessions and use a reputable tattoo numbing cream. You could also take a stronger painkiller as a precaution and use headphones as a distraction if necessary.
As with any major lifestyle change, discussing this with your healthcare team prior to getting a tattoo would be a good idea.