Northside Health Library

Subcutaneous (SQ) injections


Subcutaneous (SQ or Sub-Q) means below the skin and into the fatty tissue, just under the skin.

An SQ injection is the best way to give yourself certain medicines. Some of these medicines are insulin, blood-thinning drugs, and fertility drugs.

Alternate Names

SQ injections, Sub-Q injections

Choose Your Injection Site

These are the best areas on your body to give yourself an SQ injection:

  • Your upper arms -- at least 3 inches below your shoulder and 3 inches above your elbow, on the side or back of your upper arms
  • Front of your thighs -- at least 3 inches below your hip and 3 inches above your knee
  • Belly area -- below your ribs and above your hip bones, at least 2 inches away from your belly button

Your injection site should be healthy. This means there should be no redness, swelling, scaring, or other damage to your skin or tissue below your skin.

Change your injection site from one injection to the next. This will keep your skin healthy and help your body absorb the medicine well.

Collect Your Supplies

You will need a syringe that has an SQ needle attached to it. These needles are very short and thin.

  • Do not use the same needle and syringe more than once.
  • If the wrapping or cap on the end of the syringe is broken or missing, put it in your sharps container and use a new needle and syringe.

You may get syringes from the pharmacy that are pre-filled with the correct dose of your medicine. Or, you may need to fill your syringe with the correct dose from the medicine vial.  

Either way, check the medicine label to make sure you are taking the correct medicine and the correct dose. Also check the date on the label to make sure the medicine is not outdated.

Besides a syringe, you will need:

  • 2 alcohol pads
  • 2 or more clean gauze pads
  • A sharps container

Prepare Your Injection Site

  1. Wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 1 minute. Wash the backs, palms, fingers, and between your fingers thoroughly. Dry with a clean paper towel. Cleaning your hands will help prevent infection.
  2. Clean your skin at the injection site with an alcohol pad. Start at the point you plan to inject and wipe in a circular motion away from the starting point.
  3. Let your skin air dry, or wipe it dry with a clean gauze pad.

Prepare Your Syringe

If you are using a pre-filled syringe:

  1. Hold the syringe like a pencil in the hand you write with. Point the needle end up. Take the cover off the needle.
  2. Tap the syringe with your finger to move air bubbles to the top.
  3. Carefully push the plunger up until the dark line of the plunger is even with the line of your correct dose.

If you are filling your syringe with medicine, you will need to learn the proper technique for filling a syringe with medicine.

Inject the Medicine

  1. With your other hand pinch an inch of skin and fatty tissue between your fingers.
  2. Quickly insert the needle all the way into your skin at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Release the skin and hold the needle in place.
  4. Pull back on the plunger to check for blood. If you see blood in the syringe:
  5. Remove the needle and put it in your sharps container.
  6. Try another injection site and use a new syringe.
  7. Remember to clean the skin at your new site with alcohol.
  8. If you do not see blood, slowly push the plunger all the way down so that all the medicine goes in.
  9. As you remove the needle, press clean gauze on the site to keep the skin from pulling back.
  10. Put the needle in your sharps container.
  11. Hold pressure on the site for a few seconds to stop any bleeding.


Giving a subcutaneous injection. Rockville, MD. National Institute of Health Clinical Center. US Dept of Health and Human Services: 2002. NIH publications.

Review Date: 1/31/2012
Reviewed By: Jennifer K. Mannheim, ARNP, Medical Staff, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Seattle Children's Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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