Do you use injectable medication to treat your rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? Injecting yourself with prescribed medications can be challenging. But there are strategies that you can use to help take the sting out of injections.
Consider trying these nine tips for making your RA injections easier.
1. Look for auto-injectors
Some types of RA drugs are available in easy-to-use auto-injectors. These devices typically consist of spring-loaded syringes with premeasured doses of medication. You might find them easier to use than manual syringes. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if auto-injectors are available with your prescribed drug.
While some insurance plans cover auto-injectors, others don’t. If you have health insurance, consider contacting your provider to ask if auto-injectors are covered.
2. Use syringes with small needles
Consider asking your doctor or pharmacist to provide syringes with small needles. For example, the syringes designed for insulin injections typically have needles that are very short and thin. You might find them easier and less painful to administer than syringes with larger needles. Small needles may also help limit the risk of bleeding.
3. Let your medication warm up
While some medications should be stored at room temperature, others should be refrigerated. If you store your prescribed medication in the refrigerator, take it out about 30 minutes before your injection. Allow it to reach room temperature to reduce your risk of adverse reactions. To warm it more quickly, hold the medication under your arm.
4. Rotate injection sites
You will need to inject your prescribed medication into a subcutaneous layer of fat —that is, a layer of fat just below your skin. To limit pain and scarring, don’t give yourself a shot in the same place every time. Instead, rotate your injection sites in a regular pattern. Each time you give yourself an injection, stay at least 1 inch away from your previous injection site. If it helps, you can use a calendar or smartphone app to track your injection sites.
In general, subcutaneous injections can be given in:
- your abdomen
- your buttocks
- the top of your thighs
- the outer surface of your upper arm
When you inject your abdomen, avoid your bellybutton and waistline areas. If you’re very thin, you might need to avoid your abdomen altogether.
5. Avoid scar tissue
For easier and more comfortable injections, don’t inject medication into scar tissue or stretch marks. To limit bruising, avoid injecting areas with visible small blood vessels. You should also try to avoid areas that are tender, bruised, red, or hard.
6. Numb the area
To numb the injection site, apply an ice pack or ice cube to your skin for a few minutes beforehand. Wrap the ice pack or ice cube in a thin cloth to protect your skin from frostbite. Taking an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever, such as ibuprofen, can also help limit pain and discomfort.
7. Develop a mantra
Positive or meditative self-talk might help motivate and calm you. Consider developing a mantra that you can repeat to yourself while you prepare and administer your injection. For example, it might help to chant “this will reduce my pain” or “it’s worth it” over and over until you’re done. Alternatively, it might help to count your breaths or slowly count to 15 while you inject yourself.
8. Manage adverse reactions
Injection-site reactions are relatively common. They can cause symptoms such as redness, swelling, itching, or pain around the area that you’ve injected. To treat mild symptoms, consider using a cold compress, topical corticosteroids, oral antihistamines, or OTC pain relievers. If your symptoms get worse or last for longer than five days, contact your doctor.
If you develop symptoms of a severe reaction following an injection, such as trouble breathing, fainting, or vomiting, contact emergency medical services (911).
9. Ask for help
Before you give yourself an injection, it’s important to learn how to properly prepare and administer it. Follow the directions provided by your healthcare provider or drug manufacturer. Consider asking your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist to demonstrate the proper technique.
If you find it easier to receive injections from someone else, consider enlisting a loved one to help. They can accompany you on your next doctor’s appointment to learn how to give injections.
It might also help to connect with other people who live with RA. They may be able to share tips and words of encouragement to help you learn how to self-inject medications and manage anxieties related to self-injection. Consider joining an in-person or online support group for people with RA.
Self-injectable medications for RA can be tricky and uncomfortable to administer. But they can also provide relief from painful symptoms and help you live a more comfortable and active life. It’s important to learn how to properly prepare and administer your injections. Simple strategies for easy injections can help you manage this aspect of your treatment plan.