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How to Give a Subcutaneous Injection

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The right side of a human body, both the front and the back. Four areas are highlighted in blue and outlined by dotted lines: the back of the upper arm, the mid-abdomen around the belly button (but not including the belly button), the back of the hip and the outside of the mid-thigh

What Is Subcutaneous Injection?

Many medications are given by injecting them into the layer of fat just below the skin, which is known as subcutaneous injection. The information below will let you know what items you need to give a subcutaneous injection, where you can give the injection, how to perform the injection and what to do with the syringe when you are done.

Items Needed to Give a Subcutaneous Injection

  • The correct size needle and syringe
  • Vial of medication
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Sharps container
  • Optional: You may want to use gloves for your protection or the protection of the person receiving the shot

On the left is a syringe with the needle pointing upward, in the center is a medication vial and on the right are three alcohol wipes fanned out for display
Two hands covered by light-blue latex or nitrile gloves. The right hand is open, with the palm up and fingers spread, and the left hand is gripping the right hand as if to ensure the right glove is on properly

Subcutaneous Injection Sites

There are many safe subcutaneous injection sites on the body. Please follow your medical provider’s directions about where to inject your medication, or use these instructions as a guide.

The right side of a human body, both the front and the back. Four areas are highlighted in blue and outlined by dotted lines: the back of the upper arm, the mid-abdomen around the belly button (but not including the belly button), the back of the hip and the outside of the mid-thigh

Upper Arm

Uncover the arm to the shoulder. Have the person receiving the shot stand with hand on hip. Stand next to and a little behind the person. Find the area in the middle part of the arm, halfway between the elbow and shoulder. Gently grasp the skin at the back of the arm between your thumb and first two fingers. You should have one to two inches of skin.

Abdomen

Uncover the abdomen to see the whole area. Find the waist area. You may give a shot bounded by these landmarks: below the waist, to just above the hip bone, and from where the body curves at the side to about two inches from the middle of the abdomen. Use the natural line in the middle of the body as a marker. It may be hard to see, but it is there — unless it was covered by surgery. Avoid the surrounding area two inches from the belly button.

Thigh

Uncover the entire leg. Find the area between the knee and hip. The middle of the thigh, from mid-front to mid-side, on the outside part of the thigh, is a safe site. Gently grasp the area to make sure you can pinch one to two inches of skin.

How to Hold the Syringe for Subcutaneous Injection

A subcutaneous injection is given in the fatty layer of tissue just under the skin. Syringes for subcutaneous injections will use smaller needles than those used for injections into a muscle (intramuscular injection). The typical insulin or TB syringes will have half-inch or less needle length because they only need to go slightly below the skin level. Only certain types of injections can be given through this route.
Subcutaneous shots can be given straight in at a 90-degree angle, or at a 45-degree angle. You can give the shot at a 90-degree angle if two inches of skin can be grasped between your thumb and first two fingers. If only one inch of skin can be grasped, give the shot at a 45-degree angle.

A right hand holds a syringe between the thumb and first finger, with it resting on the second finger, as if the hand were holding a pen in a natural position for writing
A right hand holds a syringe between the thumb and first finger, with it resting on the second finger, as if the hand were holding a dart with the needle pointing down

How to Give a Subcutaneous Injection

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Dry them completely
  2. Open the foil covering of the alcohol wipe
  3. Wipe the area where you plan to give the shot with the alcohol wipe. Let the area dry
  4. Hold the syringe with your writing hand and pull the cover off the needle with your other hand, like taking a cap off a pen
  5. If you give the shot at a 45-degree angle, hold the syringe with your writing hand between your thumb and your first finger. Let the barrel of the syringe rest on your second finger. The bevel of the needle should be pointing upward at the 45-degree angle you plan to use. If you give the shot at a 90-degree angle, hold the syringe with your writing hand between your thumb and first finger. Let the barrel of the syringe rest on your second finger. The syringe should be perpendicular to your thumb
  6. Grasp the skin with the hand not holding the syringe. Holding the syringe barrel tightly with your writing hand, use your wrist to insert the needle through the skin. Sometimes the needle goes in easily. Some people have tougher skin, and a little more pressure or quickness will be required
  7. Once the needle is all the way in, push the plunger down slowly to inject the syringe’s contents
  8. Remove the needle at the same angle you inserted it
  9. Dispose of the syringe and needle in a sharps container. (More information is below)

A right hand is pinching about one inch of skin so that it domes in the middle between the thumb and first two fingers. Beneath the skin, the subcutaneous layer of fat is labeled, and below that, the muscle layer is labeled. A syringe needle has been inserted at a 45-degree angle through the domed part of the skin and into the subcutaneous fat
A right hand is pinching about two inches of skin so that it domes in the middle between the thumb and first two fingers. Beneath the skin, the subcutaneous layer of fat is labeled, and below that, the muscle layer is labeled. A syringe needle has been inserted at a 90-degree angle down through the domed part of the skin and into the subcutaneous fat

How to Dispose of Used Syringes

You can buy a sharps container, which is a hard-plastic container made especially for used syringes and needles, at your local pharmacy. If you did not buy this container with your medication, you can use a hard-plastic container with a screw-on top, such as a clothing softener bottle or hard-plastic detergent bottle. Make sure you can easily fit both the syringe and the needle into the container. Also make sure that needles cannot break through the sides, bottom or top of the container.

Call your healthcare provider or your local pharmacy to find out what your state or local requirements are for disposing of used syringes and needles. You can also visit safeneedledisposal.org.

On the left, a hand places a syringe into a cup-like container that has a biohazard symbol on it. On the right is a laundry detergent bottle with the lid on