How to Reduce Intramuscular and Subcutaneous Injection Pain

Let's face it: Nobody likes getting injections and doing it yourself can be even tougher. The fear of pain and the sight of a needle, no matter how small, can be intimidating for many people.

If you are undergoing treatment for infertility, you will likely have to give yourself daily injections. With some prior knowledge and practice, your daily injections can be made a lot easier. 

This article offers five tips to reduce the pain associated with at-home fertility injections.


Numb the Injection Site

Ice cubes

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If you are prone to bruising and pain, you can use an ice pack to numb the skin prior to injecting yourself. Limit the ice application to no longer than 15 minutes to avoid frostbite.

If you still experience pain, you may be able to use an over-the-counter numbing cream containing lidocaine, either on its own or with ice application. There is also a prescription numbing cream called Emla that contains both lidocaine and prilocaine.

Do not use a numbing agent without first speaking with your doctor.


You can numb the injection site by applying an ice pack to the skin for no longer than 15 minutes. If that's not enough, ask your doctor about an over-the-counter or prescription numbing cream.


Choose Big Muscles for Intramuscular Injections

Man injecting medication into thigh

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An intramuscular injection is given into the muscle below the skin and underlying fatty layer. It can be a little trickier to give than other types of injections.

Four sites can be used to give an intramuscular injection:

  • The upper arm just below the shoulder
  • The outer or middle part of the thigh
  • The muscular part of the hip just behind the hip bone
  • The upper muscular part of the buttock

Choosing the right site is necessary to avoid injury and ensure the proper absorption of the medicine. Pick a site that has a large, definable muscle with little fat covering it. (For example, the lower part of the buttocks may be too fatty for a needle to reach the muscle.)

If you notice bruising or pain, rotate your injection site. Rotating can help reduce pain when ongoing injections are needed. It may also reduce the risk of tissue scarring.

Tensing up won't make injecting yourself easier, so position yourself in a way that reduces tension in your muscles. You may need to lie down or bend over a table, but a relaxed muscle will hurt a lot less than a tense one.


The best places for intramuscular injections are the upper arm, thigh, hip, and buttocks. Rotate the injection site if you experience pain or bruising, and avoid tensing the muscle during the shot.


Avoid Lean Areas for Subcutaneous Injections

Woman injecting herself

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Subcutaneous injections are those delivered in the fatty tissue that lies between the skin and the underlying muscle. Choose a site that has a little extra fat rather than extra-lean parts of the body.

The best sites for subcutaneous injections are those that provide an ample injection site and are well away from joints, nerves, and large blood vessels. These include:

  • The upper outer area of the arm
  • The front and outer sides of the thighs
  • The abdomen (except around the navel)
  • The upper outer area of the buttocks
  • The upper hip

You need to be able to pinch the skin for an ample injections site. If you can't, select another body part.

As with intramuscular injections, try rotating your injection site if you experience pain or bruising.


The best subcutaneous injection sites are in places where the skin is not too lean and are well away from joints, nerves, and large blood vessels (such as the outer arm, thigh, abdomen, upper hip, and upper outer buttocks).


Keep the Goal in Mind

If your daily injections get difficult or tiresome, think about why you are taking the medication. If it is because you are trying to get pregnant or fight a disease (like diabetes or pernicious anemia), keeping the goal in mind may help ease any fear or anxiety you may be experiencing.

Remembering the reason can also help you keep any discomfort you feel in perspective. When it comes to fertility treatments, remind yourself that the injections are not forever.


By reminding yourself why you need regular injections, you can keep your eye on the goal and reduce stress and anxiety.


Know When to Ask for Help

If you can't inject yourself or are having difficulties with certain injection sites, have someone else administer the shot for you. This can be a partner, spouse, family member, or friend.

Certainly, with intramuscular injections, it is sometimes easier for a partner to inject you, say, in the hip or buttock than for you to do it yourself.

Ensure that you or the person who is administering the shot gets appropriate training from your healthcare provider or another healthcare professional. Learning the correct way to inject yourself can make a big difference between a painful and possibly unsafe injection and a safe, pain-free injection.

It is also important to remember that self-injection is not possible for all people. Don’t beat yourself up about if you can't; many people aren’t able to inject themselves.


If you have a hard time injecting yourself, have a friend or family member do it for you. You can also request a tutorial from your healthcare provider to ensure you are doing the injection correctly.


To reduce the pain and fear associated with regular injections, try numbing the injection site with ice and/or a numbing cream. Talk with your healthcare provider about the best sites for intramuscular or subcutaneous injections, and rotate the injection site if there is any pain or bruising.

If you have problems injecting yourself, have a friend or family member do it for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you give an injection without pain?

    There are some tips that can make giving an injection less painful:

    • Allow the medicine to come to room temperature (but do not heat it).
    • Always use a new needle. Used ones are not only unsterile but can be blunt.
    • Position the needle at 90 degrees to the injection site.
    • Stick the needle in quickly.
  • How do you relieve pain after an injection?

    You can relieve pain after an injection by applying a cold compress to the injection site. If the injection is in the arm or leg, keep it moving throughout the day. If the pain is significant, you can take an over-the-counter pain killer like Tylenol (acetaminophen).

  • What is the best position for an intramuscular injection?

    To avoid tensing up, find a position in which the muscle is relaxed. For example:

    • If injecting the buttocks, lie on your side or face down.
    • If injecting the thigh, recline back with the leg extended.
    • If injecting the shoulder, let the arm hang loosely to the side.
  • When should I worry about injection pain?

    Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room if you experience any of the following after an injection:

    • High fever with chills
    • Worsening injection site pain, redness, heat, or swelling
    • A pus-like discharge from the injection site
    • Spreading redness, rash, or streaks (signs of cellulitis)
    • Sudden severe rash and breathing problems (signs of anaphylaxis)

5 Sources
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. Hogan ME, Kikuta A, Taddio A. A systematic review of measures for reducing injection pain during adult immunization. Vaccine. 2010;28(6):1514-21. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2009.11.065

  2. MedlinePlus. Giving an IM (intramuscular) injection.

  3. MedlinePlus. Subcutaneous (SQ) injections.

  4. Zijlstra E, Jahnke J, Fischer A, Kapitza, Forst T. Impact of injection speed, volume, and site on pain sensation. J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2018 Jan;12(1):163-8. doi:10.1177/1932296817735121

  5. Polania JJ, Munakomi S. Intramuscular injection. In: StatPearls [Internet].

By Nicole Galan, RN
Nicole Galan, RN, is a registered nurse and the author of "The Everything Fertility Book."