Self-Injection of Arthritis Drugs

Some common arthritis drugs are self-injectable. That means they're shots you give yourself at home. Most self-injectable medications are classified as biologics.

The idea of self-injection can be daunting. But you can use tips that make it much simpler than you imagine. Most people who use these arthritis medications get over their anxiety over self-injection once they get comfortable with the process.

This article looks at which drugs are self-injectable, how to give yourself the shot, and where to go for more instruction.

Woman filling syringe with medicines
Artfoliophoto / Getty Images

Self-Injectable Drugs

At least five arthritis drugs on the market are self-injectable: Enbrel, Humira, Simponi, Cimzia, and Kineret. Some come in multiple forms.

Brand Generic Auto Inject Pen Pre-filled Syringe Syringe and Vial
Enbrel etanercept    
Humira adalimumab  
Simponi golimumab  
Cimzia certolizumab pegol  
Kineret anakinra    

How to Self-Inject

Self-injected drugs are injected under the skin (subcutaneously), not into a vein. That makes it much easier. They're usually given in the:

  • Front of the thigh
  • Stomach (away from the belly button, scars, or stretch marks)
  • If someone else is doing it, the outside of your upper arm

Some injectable drugs are available in autoinjection pens. However, not all insurance plans cover the expensive autoinjectors. In that case, you'll get either pre-filled syringes or syringes plus vials of medication.

Is It Covered?

Check your insurance coverage before filling the prescription so you're not stuck with a big expense. You may also want to look into low-cost or free medication programs through the drug's manufacturer.

Getting Instructions

You have several ways to get instructions for properly injecting your medications.

  • A doctor or nurse in your healthcare provider's office should go over the proper procedure with you when the drug is first prescribed.
  • Your pharmacist can answer any questions you have.
  • The drugs come with detailed instructions from the manufacturer. Always follow these instructions.
  • Watch the manufacturers' online videos: Enbrel, Humira, Simponi, Cimzia, Kineret.

Self-injection videos are also on YouTube. However, one study suggests that many of these videos contain bad information. It's safer to stick to the manufacturer's videos.

Be sure to follow the instructions for your specific medication and injection method. Even similar products may have different requirements.

Preparing for Injection

You can use the same steps to prepare for any kind of self-injection. To begin:

  1. Take the medication out of the refrigerator (where it should be stored), open up the package, and let it warm up for 15 minutes or 30 minutes (depending on the manufacturer's directions) before you use it. Injecting cold medicine hurts more.
  2. Don't shake the medication, rub it between your hands, or attempt to heat it up faster in any way (such as in hot water or the microwave).
  3. Have an alcohol swab, cotton ball, and sharps container on hand.
  4. Wash your hands.
  5. Clean the area where the injection will be given with the alcohol swab and allow it to air dry. Don't rub or blow on it. Double-check the directions to make sure you're using an appropriate location.

Autoinjector Pens

Autoinjector pens are the simplest way to inject yourself. You'll likely never even see a needle.

Once you're prepared to use an autoinjector:

  1. Remove the cap from the pen and prepare it according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  2. Hold the injector against your skin in the desired location.
  3. Press the button.
  4. Wait for the amount of time specified in the instructions.
  5. Move the pen away from the injection site.

See the instructions below for what to do after the injection.

Pre-Filled Syringes

To use a pre-filled syringe:

  1. Remove the needle cover, being careful to never touch the needle.
  2. With one hand, pinch up the area where you intend to inject.
  3. With your other hand, hold the syringe like a dart at either a 90-degree angle or a 45-degree angle to the skin (depending on the instructions for your specific drug).
  4. Quickly and firmly insert the needle into the pinched-up skin.
  5. Push the plunger down slowly until the syringe is empty.
  6. Withdraw the needle.

See the instructions below for what to do after the injection.

Vial and Syringe

Using a syringe and a vial of medication adds a few extra steps compared to using a pre-filled syringe. To prepare the syringe:

  1. Take the cap off the vial and wipe the top with an alcohol pad.
  2. Put air in the syringe. With the needle cap still on, draw back the plunger of the syringe until it reaches the line for your dosage.
  3. Remove the cap from the needle.
  4. Insert the needle into the rubber top of the vial.
  5. Push the plunger to inject air into the vial. This keeps a vacuum from forming.
  6. With the needle still inside, turn the vial upside down.
  7. Once again, draw back the plunger until it reaches the line for your dosage.
  8. Remove air bubbles. Keeping the tip in the vial, tap the syringe until the bubbles move to the top. Carefully depress the plunger until the air bubbles are out of the syringe.
  9. Make sure the correct amount of medicine is still in the syringe. If not, draw more out.

For the injection itself:

  1. With one hand, pinch up the area where you intend to inject.
  2. With your other hand, hold the syringe like a dart at either a 90-degree angle or a 45-degree angle to the skin (depending on the instructions for your specific drug).
  3. Quickly and firmly insert the needle into the pinched-up skin.
  4. Push the plunger down slowly until the syringe is empty.
  5. Withdraw the needle.

After the Injection

When you're done with the injection:

  1. Dispose of the pen or syringe in a sharps container. Don't put it in the garbage.
  2. If blood appears at the injection site, apply pressure with a cotton ball until the bleeding stops. Don't rub the area.
  3. If you have other doses of medication left in the pen or vial, put them back in the refrigerator.

IV Infused Drugs

Some arthritis drugs are given by intravenous infusion (delivered directly into a vein). You need to go to a doctor's office or another medical facility for that. Infused drugs include Remicade (infliximab), Rituxan (rituximab), Orencia (abatacept), and Actemra (tocilizumab).

Summary

Some biologic drugs for arthritis are given by self-injection with an autoinjector pen, pre-filled syringes, or syringes that you fill yourself from a vial of medicine. Be sure you follow the instructions from your healthcare provider or the manufacturer.

A Word From Verywell

You might be worried or afraid when it comes to injecting yourself with medicine. Rest assured that it's safe and probably simpler than you expect.

If you have trouble with self-injection for any reason, see if you can get someone to help you with it. That may get you comfortable enough with the process that you can eventually take it on yourself.

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1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pamukcu M, Izci Duran T. Are YouTube videos enough to learn anakinra self-injection?Rheumatol Int. 2021;41(12):2125-2131. doi:10.1007/s00296-021-04999-w

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