When it comes to deciding on a tattoo, not all of us start out by thinking up a design. The placement of the piece can be the defining factor.
In this article, we’re going to take an in-depth look at spine tattoos – including popular design ideas, things to consider when getting a spine tattoo, and tons of other useful stuff!
What are spine tattoos?
Spine tattoos, as the name implies, are tattoos done along the length of the spine. They differ from full-back tattoos in that they are linear in form, running down the middle of the back only. Width-wise, they cover only the spine itself and the immediate surrounding area – usually an inch or so on either side.
Typically, spine tattoos run all the way from the back of the neck to the tailbone. However, shorter designs are also an option, covering a smaller part of the spine.
Popular spine tattoo designs
Where it comes to spine tattoo designs, the restriction to a long, narrow space can be a starting point for some truly unique and creative ideas. Some of the most popular designs for the spine include:
- A spine… on the spine – this design involves tattooing either a stylized or anatomically correct image of the spine in the corresponding area. Think of it as tattooing the outline of each bone on the skin. This design is usually done either as outline-only or as a realistic-looking 3D tattoo. It is typically tattooed in black ink.
- Writing on the spine tattoo – these delicate, small spine tattoos involve placing a long line of text, usually in black, along the length of the spine. It’s one of the most popular spine tattoos for females, and it’s easy to see why – the design is subtle, minimal, and meaningful. The spine is one of the few areas on the body where a long piece of text can be tattooed without looking awkward, so if you’re looking to get a long, full sentence or two, then this could be the perfect solution.
Italic or handwritten fonts are usually the way to go – they will make the tattoo look even more elegant and subtle. Handwritten fonts are harder to read than print or typewriter fonts, for instance, so they’re also a great choice if you’d prefer to keep the content of the text relatively private.
If privacy is in fact an important factor for you, consider having the text translated into a different language and/or alphabet – just make sure you get your translation from a trusted source. Greek, Arabic, Georgian, Hebrew, and Cyrillic alphabets are all great alternatives.
- Chinese spine tattoos – a variation on the writing spine tattoo, Chinese characters are another popular option, particularly for girls’ spine tattoos. Traditionally, Chinese was written in vertical columns, from top to bottom – which, in a way, makes it a more suitable choice for a thin, vertical tattoo than text in the Roman alphabet.
- Solar System – the planets of the Solar System are another popular design for both male and female spine tattoos. The planets are placed in a sequence, arranged in a vertical line and tattooed – usually in color – along the middle section of the spine. The meaning of this tattoo is up to individual interpretation, though it often carries associations with being a reminder of our place in the universe or of the vastness of the world around us.
- Arrows – thanks to their thin, elongated shape, arrows make for great spine tattoos. Arrows are complex symbols with a broad range of meanings – you can read more about arrow tattoos here. In general, they symbolize protection, positivity, moving forward, and achievement. They can also signify friendship and love.
- Floral designs – another great choice for spine tattoos for women, flowers and floral patterns can make for truly beautiful, small spine tattoos. Vines, cherry tree blossoms, and long-stemmed roses or lilies are the most popular options. These are usually done in color, on the top part of the spine.
- Tribal designs – tribal tattoos tend to either take the form of stylized semi-abstract art – composed of curved black lines tapered to a sharp point at both ends – or complex designs inspired by traditional art of Polynesia and other tribal cultures. Since tribal tattoos can take any shape and size, they can easily be fitted into the thin, narrow space along the spine. Some tribal tattoo art is purely decorative, while tattoos inspired by real tribal cultures can carry highly specific meanings and messages.
Check out our dedicated article on tribal tattoos for more information and tons of examples.
The spiritual and symbolic significance of the spine
Although we usually focus on the meaning of tattoo designs and elements, the placements can sometimes have significance as well, beyond practical considerations or those dictated by the shape of the chosen design. The spine is one such area of the body, with its spiritual and symbolic meanings that go beyond the world of tattoo art.
To some cultures, subcultures and spiritual groups, the spine is the most important part of the body. In Hatha yoga, for instance, the spine is considered an axis for the human body and, in a spiritual sense, a pillar connecting the realms of Heaven and Earth.
The spine is symbolically believed to be the source of all of our energy. At the bottom of the spine, there is a part named sacrum – from the Latin word for ‘sacred’. This is where the center of gravity is located in our bodies, and as such is believed – particularly among yoga enthusiasts – to be the point of our relationship to the ground, the body, and to reality.
Whether we ascribe to these beliefs or not, it can’t be denied that our spine is the main pillar holding up our bodies – interestingly, it’s the first part of the body of every child that forms within the womb.
From every perspective, the spine in some way represents strength and core values.
What to consider when getting spine tattoos
The things to keep in mind and consider prior to making your decision are largely the same for spine tattoos as for any other kind of body art. Still, there are a couple of things that are particularly important where it comes to spine tattoos.
In many cases, the charm and beauty of spine tattoos is their simplicity and the fact that they only cover the spine, going down the middle of the back exactly. This means that if you get a spine tattoo, and in the future want to get something more tattooed on your back, the final effect could look somewhat disjointed or disorganized.
One way around this is to plan ahead – if you think you might want something more on your back, go for a spine tattoo design that can be expanded if needed, either to cover your whole back or a vertical half. Alternatively, think about getting a tattoo that covers half of your spine – top or bottom – leaving the other half of your back blank, ready for a separate but complementary design.
Cover-ups of spine tattoos
Covering up a tattoo with another tattoo is fairly common. It can be necessary for a number of reasons, for instance, because it’s no longer relevant, it doesn’t fit in stylistically with the person’s later tattoos, or simply because the person no longer likes their original choice.
Cover-ups are most successful when the original tattoo is relatively small and doesn’t include too many large dark areas. In the case of full-length spine tattoos, however, it can be tough to find a design that will be suitable to go over the top of it and conceal it entirely.
This shouldn’t stop you from getting a spine tattoo – all tattoos are permanent, after all, so every tattoo needs to be a well-thought-out and conscious choice with a view of having it forever. Still, keep in mind that small spine tattoos, such as thin lines of writing, will be easier to cover up than broad, dark, dense designs.
Pain factor for spine tattoos
A tattoo directly on the spine is going to hurt more than in most other areas. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, there is none to very little tissue between the bone and the skin – no muscle and fat to absorb the pain and the vibrations of the tattoo gun.
Secondly, the spine is a highly sensitive area – the spinal cord receives and processes signals and sensations from the entire body, so direct skin damage in the area is relatively painful.
Still, it’s not like the pain is unbearable – there are plenty of people out there with spine tattoos. Don’t let the pain deter you from getting your spine tattoo – just be prepared. If you’re truly worried about how you’re going to handle it, be honest about it with your tattoo artist – they might suggest splitting the tattooing process into more than one session.
Whether they’re intended as purely decorative or hold deeper meaning, spine tattoos make for unique, creative body art that is sure to be eye-catching and original.
To see some gorgeous examples of spine tattoos for women and men, check out our gallery below!