What is a Subcutaneous Injection?

Dorothy Distefano

A subcutaneous injection is an injection, or shot, into the fatty layer of tissue located under the skin. These types of shots typically use a very short needle. The pain associated with a subcutaneous injection is usually minimal.

Subcutaneous injections are typically administed with short needles.
Subcutaneous injections are typically administed with short needles.

Shots are used to administer medications into a blood vessel, muscle, or subcutaneous tissue. Subcutaneous tissue is located below the epidermis and dermal layers of the skin. This layer of tissue is mostly composed of fat cells. Medications injected into this area are absorbed constantly and slowly which offers a longer lasting effect.

Subcutaneous injections are given into the fatty layer of tissue located under the skin.
Subcutaneous injections are given into the fatty layer of tissue located under the skin.

Injectable drugs that a patient must administer to himself are often given by subcutaneous injection. The small needle and limited risk of hitting a nerve or blood vessel make subcutaneous self-administration preferable to intramuscular shots. Patients who must inject medications frequently are advised to rotate injection sites so that the area does not become excessively tender, and so that cysts will not form and inhibit drug absorption.

The upper arm is a common sight for a subcutaneous injection.
The upper arm is a common sight for a subcutaneous injection.

To give a subcutaneous injection, gather an alcohol wipe, the bottle of medication, the packaged syringe, a gauze pad, and a chart for recording site rotation, if one is being used. Hand washing is critical to minimize the introduction of bacteria into the injection site. The top of the medication bottle should be wiped with the alcohol wipe to ensure cleanliness.

A subcutaneous injection may be given in the abdomen.
A subcutaneous injection may be given in the abdomen.

After opening the syringe, pull back the plunger to fill the syringe with an amount of air equal to the amount of medication that will be needed. Next, insert the needle into the medication bottle all the way and press the plunger to introduce the air into the bottle. Turn the bottle over so that it is upside down. Pull back on the plunger and draw the correct amount of medication into the syringe. Flicking the barrel will cause any air bubbles to rise to the surface.

Press the plunger again to remove the air and check to make sure the dosage contained in the syringe is accurate. Also be sure that no air bubbles remain in the syringe. Remove the needle from the bottle. Place the cap over the needle so that it stays sterile. The medication is now ready for administration by subcutaneous injection.

Choose an injection site on the upper arm, thigh, or abdomen. Cleanse the site with an alcohol wipe in a circular motion, from inside to outside of the chosen area. Remove the cover from the needle and hold the syringe as one would hold a dart. Firmly pinch the skin with one hand and quickly insert the needle at a 90° angle and slowly press the plunger to completely inject the medication. Release the skin, remove the needle, and wipe the site with the gauze.

Self-administered injections are often subcutaneous.
Self-administered injections are often subcutaneous.

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Discussion Comments


@anon84097: First, if your mate is not experiencing pain, you're probably doing it right.

Having said that, make sure you're using the thinnest needle possible. The B-D Company makes a 31 gauge needle that is about the thickness of a couple of hairs. They're great.

Next, make sure you're pinching up a fold of skin. Going straight in without pinching up the skin seems to cause more pain.

If you have pain with the first try, move the needle just a little way in either direction and try again, always pinching up some skin.

Ideally, your mate should be able to give himself the injections, but if this is not possible, you need to gauge what you're doing by his comfort level, not yours. Everyone is different.

I don't know how particularly trustworthy I am, except that I take Victoza once a day, SC, and before that was on Byetta twice a day, SC, and have been on it since summer 2008. Some days it stings, some days it doesn't. It never hurts for more than a second or two, and even then, it's not as bad as getting a mosquito bite.

You'll spring a "bleeder" once in a while, but don't worry. Just get the needle out and dab the spot with a little neosporin. No big deal.

Remember also, when you give the injection, to keep the needle in for a count of 15, to make sure the medicine is absorbed.

Most of all, let your mate tell you what's comfortable. If the medication can be given in the abdomen or upper thigh, for instance, allow him to choose the most comfortable site. I usually inject in my abdomen, but that's strictly personal preference.

One more thing: change sides, wherever you inject. Switch from left to right to center, up and down, so you're not hitting one spot too often.

Good luck and post back if you have more questions. I'll be around.


I need some advice for subcutaneous injections besides the basic instructions that seems to be on most sites. does anyone know a page where I can ask and receive a trustworthy opinion? If this is the wrong place to post a question, please ignore my question below.

My question, just in case, is the following: I have read and followed the proper instructions for administering a subcutaneous injection. When giving the injections to my mate, he almost always experiences minimal to no pain at all. However when I give SC injection to myself with simple water for injection (just to see what hurts and what doesn't) using the exact same procedure and the correct (?) spots, I experience a lot of pain and a little bleeding (more than what is considered normal for SC shots) so I am wondering what could I be possibly doing wrong? Note that I have managed to give a SC injection to myself correctly two to three times but in between and after these times the pain was too much so I stopped to prevent damage. The less successful and painless injections I can give myself, the more confidence I lose in being able to administer them correctly and painlessly to my mate.)

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