How to Make Subcutaneous Injections Less Painful
When I was first diagnosed with MS, I didn’t have a choice about what disease-modifying therapy (DMT) I could take. My neurologist held up his hand and pointed one by one to each finger, with each finger representing a different DMT.
He decided a subcutaneous injection would be best. But it turns out that these injections caused me a tremendous amount of pain.
Later, I discovered techniques that could have helped me reduce the pain, which I’d like to pass along for others who may be struggling.
My treatment, Rebif (interferon beta-1a), was given via subcutaneous injection that delivered medication into the layer of tissue beneath the skin. The blessing about this method was that I couldn’t see the needle. The problem was that I was the skinniest 22-year-old you would ever see, so there wasn’t much of a fatty layer of tissue to inject into.
Every injection went straight into my muscle, prompting 30 seconds of monumental agony. I would desperately try to find a way to make the process easier by changing the settings on the needle delivery system, but it was to no avail. This torture continued three times a week for over a year. It felt like being stung by a bee.
At the time, not many alternatives to injectable DMTs were available to me here in the U.K. When I finally managed to change my DMT a year later, I had learned some things that could have made the experience much more manageable.
If you are currently taking an injectable treatment and want it to be less painful, or maybe you’ve just started and want to find a way to make it easier, following are three tips I learned too late that I wish someone had told me about sooner.
Hot and cold packs — which is better?
I would use a cold pack to numb the skin, and I intentionally left it on too long because I thought it would prevent me from feeling the injection. I do not advise doing this. It ended up hurting more because it made the already acidic-feeling medicine burn even worse.
What I now realize is that I should have used a heat pack 10 minutes before the injection, and then gently massaged and relaxed the area. The medicine would have been at body temperature, and maybe I wouldn’t have noticed it quite as much.
Use numbing creams and gels
The part I struggled with most about injecting myself was the pain of the needle. I had no idea back then that numbing creams and gels even existed. If I had, it would have been a far less painful experience.
Dab on some of the cream, cover the area with plastic wrap, and leave it for 10-15 minutes. Wipe off the excess, and voilà! You won’t feel the needle. Numbing cream and gels also work well if you are nervous about blood tests.
Pinch the skin
My nurse friend told me this far too late, but it made injections more comfortable when I finally learned it.
Pinch the skin at the area you want to inject between your forefinger and thumb, so the part you want to inject raises in the middle. Then make sure to inject the needle at 90 degrees if there is about an inch of skin, or 45 degrees if there is less than an inch.
Relaxation techniques also could have helped me, had I known about them back then. These include visualization, with which one can take the mind to a different place, and breathing to help calm anxiety.
If you’re currently struggling with injection pain, know that you’re not alone. I hope these tips help.
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