Before you consider getting a tattoo, you may want to think about a recent report filed by two Israeli physicians. They wrote a letter to the Annals of Internal Medicine about three cases involving men with tattoos who experienced permanent muscle atrophy in the area below or adjacent to their tattoos (133:158-159; 2000). In one case an athletic 17-year-old male developed right shoulder pain and weakness four months after getting a tattoo on his upper back. The muscles directly under the tattoo, the rotator cuff group, showed muscle wasting. His condition has remained stable for six years, and the doctors could find no other cause for his apparent loss of muscle other than the tattoo.
The doctors go on to describe two other cases of muscle atrophy related to tattoos, both of which showed up within three to six months after the person got the tattoos. As to how a tattoo can lead to underlying muscle loss, the doctors aren’t certain of the precise cause. They do suggest that it may be the result of needle damage to nerves, bad technique on the part of the tattoo artist or the pigment used in the tattoo, which previous studies show could have toxic effects on tissues in the body.
While three cases are not enough to provide a cause-and-effect relationship, they do convey a warning to those considering getting tattoos. You could wind up with permanent muscle loss in the area under and near the tattoo. Then you may decide to get a tattoo saying, ‘Born to Lose Muscle.’ IM