It would be an understatement to say that insulin is a lifesaver for people with diabetes. However, for most diabetics, oral metformin is not an option. The only way to take insulin is through an injection with a syringe or pen. So naturally, this can be quite intimidating to those who are about to start taking it.

Some people may have concerns about the process being painful. Others may worry that self-injection is too difficult. However, nowadays, there is no need for such concerns.

Modern insulin pens and syringes are a lot easier to use. Not to mention, they hurt a lot less. Although it may take a while to get comfortable with the process, all you need is a little practice.

In this article, we will give you a rundown of how standard insulin injections work. If you have any specific concerns that are not covered here, reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance.

How To Inject Insulin

The method for injecting insulin varies depending on the technique you choose. This section will walk you through the basic steps to follow for each method. However, if your healthcare provider gives you individualized instructions, always make sure to follow them first.

Irrespective of the technique you use, there are some general guidelines you should follow. First, before starting the actual injection process, make sure your hands are clean and washed. Then gather the necessary supplies. Get your insulin pen or vial, a new needle, and an alcohol swab. Also, grab a sharps container and a magnifier if necessary.

Now, let’s talk about how to inject insulin, along with the steps to follow for each technique.

With An Insulin Pen

Woman injecting insulin with penHere is how you can administer insulin with an insulin pen:

  1. First, use an alcohol swab to disinfect the injection site and let the alcohol dry.
  2. Ensure that the insulin pen you are using is the right one. Often, people will have two insulin pens: one for long-acting insulin and the other for rapid-acting mealtime insulin. If that is the case, make sure that you are using the right one.
  3. Uncap the insulin pen and attach a new needle. Then take off the protective cap.
  4. Adjust the dial to the appropriate insulin dose.
  5. Pinch the skin at the injection site. Then carefully press the needle straight into it at a 90-degree angle. Remember to be gentle, as the needle is thin.
  6. Loosely hold the insulin barrel. Then press down on the plunger with your thumb to start injecting the insulin. One tip to keep in mind is to count to ten as you do this. That way, you will never make the mistake of removing the needle before you’ve administered the entire dose.
  7. After that, you can lift the pen out of the injection site. Cover the pen’s needle with the clear cap and then twist it off. Ensure you dispose of it correctly in the container.
  8. Once you have replaced the cap on the pen, you can then store it. When doing so, always remember to remove the needle.

With A Syringe

Follow these steps to inject insulin with a syringe:

  1. First, clean the site with an alcohol swab and let it dry completely. Next, use another swab to sterilize the top of the insulin vial.
  2. Ensure that the vial is within its expiration date. Also, check that no particles are floating around in your insulin. If you are using mixed insulin, gently roll the vial between your palms for a bit. This will mix the insulin better. It will also warm up the mixture if you have just taken it out of the refrigerator.
  3. Uncap the needle and draw the syringe’s plunger back.
  4. Press the needle until it pushes past the rubber stopper at the top of the vial. As you do this, make sure that the vial is lying flat on the table. Then, inject the air from the syringe into the vial.
  5. While the needle is still inside the vial, turn the vial upside down. This angle will facilitate insulin flow into the syringe when you draw the plunger back. You can stop once it fills up with the desired dose.
  6. Once again, turn the vial upside down. Check the syringe for any air bubbles that may have formed. If you find any, use your finger to tap the needle until the bubbles rise to the top. Then, push them out by gently pressing the plunger. After that, you’ll need to pull the insulin back again till you reach the appropriate dose.
  7. Take the needle out of the vial. Double-check that the dose you have is accurate.
  8. Pinch the disinfected skin. Insert the needle straight into it at a 90-degree angle. Press down on the plunger to inject the insulin.
  9. Count to five instead of ten to ensure the complete delivery of the insulin.
  10. Dispose of the used syringe in a sharps container.

Woman injecting insulin

Do’s And Don’ts Of Insulin Injections

Knowing how to inject insulin is crucial. However, there are a few other tips you should keep in mind, as they will make the injection process as painless and straightforward as possible.


Here is what you should do during an insulin injection:

  • First, always let the insulin reach room temperature before starting the injection process.
  • Use a new needle for your pen or syringe with every injection.
  • Check with your medical provider that the needle you are using is of the appropriate size.
  • Always remember to remove the used needle before storing your insulin pen.
  • Store your insulin away from extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. Also, check if the manufacturer mentions any specific storage recommendations.
  • Before using a vial, inspect it for stray particles or anything else that seems out of the ordinary.
  • Always dispose of needles safely.
  • Form a rotation plan for injection sites. For example, do not inject in one area for too many days in a row.


Now, let’s talk about what you should avoid doing during your insulin injections.

  • Do not inject insulin near your belly button or bony areas. Other areas to avoid include moles, scars, or wounds.
  • Never share your insulin pen, even if it has a new needle.
  • Do not wiggle the needle while you are injecting the insulin or removing it from the skin.
  • Avoid injecting insulin into the same spot multiple times.
  • Make sure you are never out of supplies. If you plan on traveling, carry extras.
  • Avoid using expired insulin. While not fatal, it may not be effective.
  • Never forget to have a rapid source of glucose on hand.

How To Track Insulin Doses

People often tend to forget whether they have taken their insulin or not. Other times they may remember taking the insulin but not the dose. Of course, you could go old-school and note such details with your blood sugar reading in a paper log. However, technology has made this process much more manageable.

You will find several mobile apps and wireless devices to help you maintain a record of insulin doses. Some come with additional features that allow you to track blood sugar readings as well. You may even be able to use these to set a custom reminder to avoid missing a dose.

Tracking your insulin doses is essential. That way, you can avoid unknowingly taking a second injection or missing one and having to double-dose.

Common Insulin Injection Sites

Before you start injecting insulin, you will need to learn a bit more about injection sites. For one, you should know which body parts serve as appropriate sites for insulin injections. Apart from that, it would be best to learn how to inject the insulin into the skin and not the muscle.

Knowing the appropriate injection sites is also essential for site rotation. Injecting insulin into the same spot every time can be quite painful. Furthermore, it can also cause the formation of lumps. So, it would help to have a proper plan to alternate sites for every injection.

This section discusses the four most common areas for insulin injections. Depending on the type of insulin you use, the body area you inject into influences its absorption speed.

1.     Abdomen

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), insulin is absorbed quickest when injected into the abdomen. Before you start the injection, place your hand on top of your belly button. Do not inject anywhere within two inches or two fingers’ width of your belly button.

2.     Upper Arms

To inject insulin into the upper arm, locate the spot on the back of the arm with the fattiest tissue. If you cannot reach the site, ask for someone else’s assistance in administering the injection.

3.     Thighs

If you plan on injecting insulin into the thighs, opt for a site on the front or side. Also, make an effort to stay away from the bony area around the knee.

4.     Lower Back Or Buttocks

According to the ADA, these areas absorb insulin the slowest. However, if you choose the lower back, the best site would be just above your hips. On the other hand, if you want to go for the buttocks, opt for the upper area. Bear in mind, though, that the latter may be more challenging to reach yourself.

Insulin Injection Sites

Importance Of Site Rotation

It is not uncommon for people to have a favorite insulin injection site. However, regular site rotation is essential. When you fail to rotate sites, you put yourself at risk of developing lipohypertrophy.

When you repeatedly use the same injection spot, it causes extra fat to accumulate in that area. This accumulation, which looks like lumps under the skin, is known as lipohypertrophy. Once affected, these sites will no longer absorb insulin effectively. As a result, you may even have to deal with lower insulin exposure and higher blood sugar levels post-injection.

Site rotation is the simplest way to avoid such issues. So, here are some tips to help you rotate sites regularly.

Mealtime Insulin Injections

A helpful suggestion from the ADA is to inject mealtime insulin in the same area at each meal. For instance, you can plan your injections to use your thigh for breakfast and your abdomen for lunch.

Make it a habit to find a new spot within these areas every day. Choosing a new spot within the same site at each meal has a two-fold benefit. First, it helps make your blood sugar patterns more consistent and prevents fat or scar tissue accumulation in one area.

Colored Pen Needles

If you find the mealtime injection plan too complicated to track, opt for colored pen needles instead. That way, you can assign one color to one injection site, making rotation much simpler.

Tips For Storage And Disposal

Often, your medical provider will inform you about the storage requirements for the insulin pen or vial they prescribe. However, here are a few standard storage guidelines you can follow:

  • Store unopened insulin pens and vials in your refrigerator.
  • On the other hand, you should store an open and used pen at room temperature. You can keep the pen for a period of two weeks to a month, depending on the insulin type.
  • Similarly, it would be best to store an insulin vial currently in use at room temperature. The storage period is usually around 28 days.

Safe disposal of used pens and syringe needles is equally essential. That way, no one receives an unwanted prick. You can either purchase a sharps container from a pharmacy or make one yourself.

All you need is a sturdy container or jug. After you fill up about three-quarters of it, tape the top securely. Then find out if your city has a place for the safe disposal of sharps.


Insulin is an essential hormone in maintaining blood sugar levels. There is nothing to fear when administering it externally. Including insulin in your treatment program will ensure your blood sugar levels are kept in control. Your healthcare provider, pharmacist, and diabetes educator are always available if you need any assistance with insulin storage, administration, dosage, and more. Remember to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and recommendations before consulting anyone else.