How to Give an Intramuscular Injection

Syringe being filled

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If you have never done it before, the thought of giving an intramuscular injection can be overwhelming and frightening. However, it's not as difficult as it may seem. If you have ever gotten a flu shot, you know that while it may be uncomfortable to receive an intramuscular shot, it is not painful.

Whether you are giving the shot to yourself or administering it for someone else, doing it for the first time may be a little nerve-wracking. Read through these step-by-step instructions a few times to make yourself familiar and comfortable with the process.

Selecting a site

Safe sites for injections include the upper arm muscle (deltoid), the upper quadrant of the buttock, or the side of the hip (lateral hip) or thigh. Your doctor may have recommendations for which site is best, but generally, it is helpful to alternate sites with each injection to avoid pain or soreness.

How to Give an Injection

Many medications can only be given with an intramuscular injection. Here's how it's done:

  1. Assemble all the supplies you'll need: the medication to be given, syringe and needle (usually 21g or 22g, and 1 1/2" long), alcohol prep pad, gauze, band-aid.
  2. Wash your hands.
  3. Prepare or mix the medication according to your instructions and draw the medication into the syringe.
  4. Attach a new needle to the syringe.
  5. Select the site: It should be free of scars or bumps.
  6. Clean the site with an alcohol pad and allow it to dry. Do not blow on it or fan the site to quicken the drying process. That just pushes the bacteria back onto the site.
  7. Spread the skin with your fingers and inject the needle straight down in a dart-like motion all the way.
  8. Pull back on the plunger a little. If you see blood enter the syringe, pull the needle out a little and inject the medication. If you do not see blood, simply inject.
  9. Pull the needle out and dispose of properly in a sharps container. Do not put medical or sharp waste in the regular garbage.
  10. Use the gauze to dab up any blood, if necessary, and cover with a bandage.
  11. Wash your hands.

When To Call 911

Intramuscular injections are typically safe. However, allergic reactions may occur. Seek immediate medical help or call 911 if any of the following symptoms occur after getting an injection:

  • rash
  • itchiness
  • difficulty breathing (shortness of breath)
  • swelling of the mouth, lips, or face

Tips

  1. Apply ice on the site to numb the area just prior to cleaning it.
  2. Have the patient relax the area of the injection site. Tension in the muscle makes the injection more painful.
  3. Massage the area afterward to enhance the absorption of the medication.
  4. After drawing up the medication, change the needle. The sharper the needle is, the less painful the injection will be.
  5. Hold the syringe by the barrel and not the plunger. Keeping a finger on the plunger may cause you to inadvertently push the plunger before the needle is entirely in the tissue. This can help prevent you from wasting medication.
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  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Giving an IM (Intramuscular) Injection.

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