URL of this page: //medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000430.htm

Subcutaneous (SQ) injections

Subcutaneous (SQ or Sub-Q) injection means the injection is given in the fatty tissue, just under the skin.

A SQ injection is the best way to give yourself certain medicines, including:

  • Insulin
  • Blood-thinners
  • Fertility drugs

Choose Your Injection Site

The best areas on your body to give yourself a SQ injection are:

  • Upper arms. At least 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) below your shoulder and 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) above your elbow, on the side or back.
  • Front of your thighs. At least 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) below your hip and 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) above your knee.
  • Belly area. Below your ribs and above your hip bones, at least 2 inches (5 centimeters) away from your belly button.

Your injection site should be healthy, meaning there should be no redness, swelling, scarring, or other damage to your skin or the tissue below your skin.

Change your injection site from one injection to the next, at least 1 inch apart. This will keep your skin healthy and help your body absorb the medicine well.

Collect Your Supplies

You will need a syringe that has a SQ needle attached to it. These needles are very short and thin.

  • DO NOT use the same needle and syringe more than once.
  • If the wrapping or cap on the end of the syringe is broken or missing, discard it in your sharps container. Use a new needle and syringe.

You may get syringes from the pharmacy that are pre-filled with the correct dose of your medicine. Or you may need to fill your syringe with the correct dose from the medicine vial. Either way, check the medicine label to make sure you are taking the correct medicine and the correct dose. Also check the date on the label to make sure the medicine is not outdated.

In addition to a syringe, you will need:

  • 2 alcohol pads
  • 2 or more clean gauze pads
  • A sharps container

Prepare Your Injection Site

The following steps should be followed:

  1. To help prevent infection, wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 1 minute. Thoroughly wash between your fingers and the backs, palms, and fingers of both hands.
  2. Dry your hands with a clean paper towel.
  3. Clean your skin at the injection site with an alcohol pad. Start at the point you plan to inject and wipe in a circular motion away from the starting point.
  4. Let your skin air dry, or wipe it dry with a clean gauze pad.

Prepare Your Syringe

The following steps should be followed when preparing your syringe:

  1. Hold the syringe like a pencil in the hand you write with, pointing the needle end up.
  2. Take the cover off the needle.
  3. Tap the syringe with your finger to move air bubbles to the top.
  4. Carefully push the plunger up until the dark line of the plunger is even with the line of your correct dose.

If you are filling your syringe with medicine, you will need to learn the proper technique for filling a syringe with medicine.

Inject the Medicine

The following steps should be followed when injecting the medicine:

  1. With the hand that is not holding the syringe, pinch an inch (2.5 centimeters) of skin and fatty tissue (not the muscle) between your fingers.
  2. Quickly insert the needle all the way into the pinched skin at a 90-degree angle (45-degree angle if there is not much fatty tissue).
  3. Once the needle is all the way in, slowly press down on the plunger or injection button to inject all the medicine.
  4. Release the skin and pull out the needle.
  5. Put the needle in your sharps container.
  6. Press clean gauze on the site and hold pressure for a few seconds to stop any bleeding. 
  7. Wash your hands when you are done.

Alternative Names

SQ injections; Sub-Q injections; Diabetes subcutaneous injection; Insulin subcutaneous injection

References

National Institute of Health Clinical Center (NIH). Giving a subcutaneous injection. Rockville, MD. US Dept of Health and Human Services NIH publications; 2015. www.cc.nih.gov/ccc/patient_education/pepubs/subq.pdf. Accessed January 2, 2018.

Smith SF, Duell DJ, Martin BC, Gonzalez L, Aebersold M. Medication administration. In: Smith SF, Duell DJ, Martin BC, Gonzalez L, Aebersold M, eds. Clinical Nursing Skills: Basic to Advanced Skills. 9th ed. New York, NY: Pearson; 2017:chap 18.

Review Date 11/15/2017

Updated by: Jennifer K. Mannheim, ARNP, Medical Staff, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Seattle Children's Hospital, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.