Top Insulin Injection Sites for Best Absorption (2023)
Time to read 9 min
Time to read 9 min
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,), around 11.3% of the US population and 6% of Uk population has diabetes (Diabetes UK) has diabetes. Many of those with diabetes are relying on insulin therapy alongside lifestyle modification.
Insulin is only available in injectable formulations, as the stomach enzymes break down oral preparations before they can be absorbed to reach the bloodstream.
If you need to take your insulin injections daily, it would be helpful to stick with an accessible injection site that gives the best drug efficacy.
This article provides all the resources to better follow your doctor's instructions and ensure you're adopting the right insulin injection technique.
Follow along as we explore the best insulin injection sites that make your daily medication routine less of a chore!
People with diabetes rely on insulin delivery through insulin syringes, insulin pens, or a needle-free insulin jet injector to control blood sugar.
They're designed to penetrate just the skin and deliver the drug to the subcutaneous tissue, which is the layer of fat lying just underneath the skin.
Using a vial and a syringe with a longer needle is a different experience from the short needles of insulin pens. Both also vary from the experience of someone who uses a needle-free insulin delivery system.
So let's explore the sites that offer good insulin absorption and support the insulin needle length.
Many diabetics taking insulin choose the abdomen as their daily injection site for all the good reasons.
First of all, it's an easily accessible site that has a large surface area and allows for injection site rotation. Insulin needles injected subcutaneously are also less painful due to the pad of fat that usually overlies the abdominal muscles.
The ideal injection site is around 2 inches from the belly button, giving you enough area to work with. All you need to do is locate the fatty tissue between your fingers and deliver the insulin dosage using your pen needle.
Then follow these instructions:
Insert the pen at a 90-degree angle to your skin and press the plunger down.
Hold the pen in place and count six seconds before removing it to ensure that you receive the full insulin dose.
If you are using the correct length of needle you should not need to pinch up your skin to inject it. However, if you are very slim, you may need to use a shorter needle length.
If using the needle free Insujet system holds in place for 10 seconds after activation, before removal from the skin.
You need to avoid injecting the drug into any scar tissue for the best insulin absorption rate.
The fibrous tissue doesn't have as rich of a blood supply that warrants good drug absorption and might render your insulin injection ineffective.
For thin adults, abdominal subcutaneous injections might be a bit tricky. Here comes the role of thigh injections, a convenient site for self-medication. The ideal injection site is halfway between the hip and the knee joints.
If you're in doubt, measure a distance of 4 inches from the hip, double check with estimating 4 inches from the knee, and voila, you've got your right injection spot.
Another point to remember when doing thigh injections is to target the outer side of the leg rather than the inner aspect.
That's because the inner thigh has a richer network of blood capillaries, giving direct access to insulin into the bloodstream. This isn't the intended mode of drug administration, as insulin needs to settle in the subcutaneous fat and slowly make its way to blood circulation.
It's also worth noting that long-term thigh injections can be problematic for some people. During diabetes care visits, some patients report mild discomfort while walking or running after their insulin injection.
Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any issues and discuss other potential insulin injection sites that are more convenient.
Next on our list are the upper arms. There might be better sites for injecting insulin than upper arms regarding self-medication. You need to reach the fatty tissue overlying the triceps muscle, which can be tricky, especially for older diabetes patients.
For the most part, you should be fine when injecting insulin into the back of your non-dominant arm. It's always recommended to ask for help if you can't reach the injection site, as you always want to ensure you're receiving the full insulin dose and have excellent blood sugar control.
The upper arms can be a preferred site for an insulin pump. Your healthcare team will work with you to settle on an easily reachable area that doesn't interfere with your day-to-day arm movements.
The upper buttocks are another insulin injection site you can add to your injection site rotation. It's no surprise that such a location isn't as accessible when it comes to self-medication, just like the case with upper arms.
To hit the fat layer, you need to envision a line going across your upper buttocks. Your insulin needle needs to go just above this line but right below the waist.
Let's walk you through everything you need for a proper insulin injection. Please always consult your primary care team when you think about your injection technique.
Wash your hands with soap and water before handling the insulin vial, pen, needles, or needle-free jet nozzles.
If you're using an insulin vial preparation, you must roll the vial between your hands to ensure the contents are properly mixed.
As for insulin pens, you need to use a new pen needle, and you're good to go.
Draw the correct insulin dosage into the syringe. In the case of an insulin pen, just adjust the dial to match the prescribed dose.
When handling a syringe or an insulin pen, you need to hold them like you're holding a pencil. Pinch a skin fold with enough body fat between your fingers and insert the needle tip. Depending on the size of the needle, the thickness of the fat layer, and your doctor's instructions, you could insert the needle at a 45 or 90–degree angle.
Slowly push the plunger to inject insulin. Make sure you've administered the full dosage by checking that there are no leftovers in the syringe.
Remove the needle and press on the injection site using a cotton swab.
Follow the proper disposal recommendations for the insulin needle or needle-free nozzle. In the case of an insulin pen, you can dispose of the tip or just recap it for future uses according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Now that you know the potential insulin injection sites, I'd like to run you through essential tips you need to keep in mind for a smooth medication administration process.
Some people with diabetes might think they're following the correct dose but don't see changes in their blood sugars. If that's the case with you, it's always recommended to consult your healthcare team when in doubt about dosage, injection technique, or site.
You might be overlooking a basic thing affecting insulin absorption and delaying optimum disease control, like different injection sites. Some diabetes pen needles might be tricky to use, so it's always a good idea to bring them over on your next doctor's appointment and ensure you're deploying the correct dosage.
Also, consider the insertion depths and angles if you're using insulin pumps. Different devices have different usage instructions.
So, if you're switching to a new pen or insulin pump, you can't just assume that your new setup works the same way as the old devices you already know.
If you repeatedly use the same injection spot, your body might start forming scar tissue in response to repeated injury. To avoid that, all you have to do is follow an injection rotation cycle per the NHS recommendations.
If you're comfortable with abdominal injections, you don't need to switch to the upper thighs. Instead, you can pick different regions within the abdomen to avoid developing hard lumps under the skin.
The American Diabetes Association recommends you keep an accurate logbook for all your insulin injections. You need to track your dosage, administration time, and injection site. You can find digital tools on your smartphone that makes such a process a breeze and helps you detect specific patterns.
Could you try to be consistent with your insulin injection timing for the best glycemic control? You also might need to adjust the dosage of your mealtime insulin depending on how much food you have to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
If you're keeping your insulin vials in the fridge, it's a good idea to take one out and leave it at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes before the injection. If you use a cold insulin vial, you might experience more pain with your injections, which could be completely avoided by planning ahead properly.
Pay close attention to the proper needle disposal regulations. Reusing needles is never a good idea and can lead to an increased risk of infection and developing scar tissue. Always dispose of used insulin needles in a sharps container to prevent needle stick injury.
Different insulin injection sites have different absorption rates. The abdominal subcutaneous injection delivers the fastest route for insulin absorption, followed by the upper arms and, finally, the thighs.
This could be explained by the fact that the abdomen has a more expansive network of blood capillaries, offering a larger surface area for absorption.
Also, different insulin formulations have varying degrees of absorption rates. Short-acting insulin is intended to be administered at mealtimes, so it delivers a high spike for good glycemic control following meals.
Meanwhile, long-acting insulin formulations are designed for prolonged absorption over a longer time frame to maintain the baseline insulin levels throughout the day.
Regularly monitoring blood glucose levels is crucial as insulin absorption rate varies greatly from one person to another. Personalized medical care ensures that such variations are taken into consideration and makes for better glycemic control.
People with diabetes can wear insulin pumps over their abdomen, upper arms, thighs, and buttocks. Personal preferences, lifestyle requirements, and comfort all play a role in choosing the insulin pump site.
Repeated injections at the same site lead to the accumulation of fatty tissue under the skin, called lipohypertrophy. Besides the cosmetic impact of such hard lumps, they affect future insulin absorption rates and lead to suboptimal diabetes care.
Injecting a higher insulin dose than intended can lead to low blood sugar levels. Hypoglycemia presents as dizziness, confusion, and sweating. In severe cases, it can lead to loss of consciousness.
Double-check your insulin dose before injection and follow a strict blood sugar monitoring routine.
Proper education is key to ensuring optimal glycemic control. It starts by following the right insulin injection technique and choosing the appropriate injection site. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECOC) lists the abdomen, upper arms, thighs, and buttocks as potential sites for insulin injection.
If you're living alone and self-medication is a priority, you could use abdominal or upper thigh injections. Upper arms and buttocks injections might require some assistance. Speak up about your concerns to your healthcare provider to ensure your treatment plan fits your current lifestyle.
It's worth noting that the choice of injection site can affect your insulin absorption. So it's better to avoid injecting insulin into a new site without contacting your doctor to check whether your insulin dose or formulations need to be adjusted.