How to Give an Intramuscular Injection

Three Parts:Proceeding With The IM InjectionUnderstanding Background KnowledgeAlternate Method: Z-Track

Learning to give an intramuscular (IM) injection may become a necessity if you, or a family member, suffer from an illness that requires injections of medication. Your doctor will make this decision as he or she provides medical care. The patient's nurse will explain to the caregiver how to give an intramuscular injection, which should parallel the steps below.

Part 1
Proceeding With The IM Injection

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    Wash your hands prior to starting the procedure. Good hygiene is important to minimize the risk of infection.[1]
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    Reassure the patient and explain how the procedure will unfold. Specify the location of the injection you are giving, and describe how the medication will feel once injected if the patient does not already know.
    • Some medications can be initially painful or sting upon injection; most do not, but it is important for the patient to be aware of this if it is the case to minimize any distress that may ensue from now knowing.[2]
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    Sanitize the area with an alcohol swab. Prior to performing the injection, it is important that the patch of skin over the muscle where the injection will take place is sterilized and clean. Again, this minimizes the chances of an infection following the injection.[3]
    • Allow the alcohol to dry. Do not touch the area until you give the injection; if you do, you'll just have to clean the area again.
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    Encourage the patient to relax.[4] If the muscle receiving the injection is tense, it will hurt more, so relaxing the muscle as much as possible helps to ensure the least pain felt on injection.
    • It can sometimes be helpful to distract the patient before injecting, by asking him questions about his life. When the patient is distracted, his muscle is more likely to be relaxed.
    • Some people also prefer to be positioned in a way in which they cannot see the injection taking place. Seeing the needle approaching can cause worry and distress in some, and will result not only in increased anxiety, but also in tensing of the muscle. To help the patient relax, suggest he look in another direction if he wants to.
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    Insert the needle into the specific location. Start by removing the cap, and then insert it smoothly and quickly at an angle of 90 degrees to the skin. The faster you inject, the less pain the patient will feel. However, be careful if this is your first time not to go so fast that you either miss the spot or cause any further damage to the skin than is needed.[5]
    • If it is your first time, proceed with caution, but know that a faster speed of injection does tend to be nicer for the patient.
    • It can be helpful to pull up the skin around the injection site with your non-dominant hand (as your dominant hand will be doing the injection) prior to injecting. Pulling up the skin can help you mark your target and make it less painful for the patient when the needle goes in.
    • You don't need to push the entire length of the needle into the person — you just need to make sure you are indeed injecting into muscle.
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    Pull back the plunger before injecting. After injecting the needle but before injecting the medication, start by pulling back on the plunger. Although this may seem counter-intuitive, it is important because if any blood comes into the syringe when you pull back, it means your needle is located in a blood vessel and not in the muscle.[6] You will need to begin again with a new needle and syringe if this happens.[7]
    • The medication is designed to be injected into a muscle and not into the bloodstream, so if you see any red color when you pull back you will want to reposition your needle somewhere else before injecting.
    • This is not worrisome as long as you notice the presence of blood before injecting the medication, so that you can reposition the needle.
    • Most often the needle lands in the muscle itself. Rarely does it land in a blood vessel, but it is always best to be safe rather than sorry prior to injecting.
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    Inject the medication slowly.[8] While it is best to insert the needle quickly to minimize pain, injecting the medication slowly helps to minimize pain. This is because the medication takes up space in the muscle, and the surrounding tissue will need to stretch to accommodate the added fluid in the space. Injecting slowly gives more time for this to happen and causes the patient less pain.
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    Pull the needle out at the same angle as you injected it. Do this once you're confident all the medicine has been injected.
    • Press gently on the injection site with the 2x2 gauze.[9] The recipient may feel a slight discomfort; this is normal. Have the recipient hold the gauze in place while you dispose of the needle.
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    Dispose of the needle properly. Do not throw needles into the trash. You may receive a hard plastic container made especially for used syringes and needles. You can also use a soda bottle or other plastic bottle with a screw lid. Make sure that both the syringe and needle fit into the container easily and cannot break through the sides.
    • Ask your caregiver or a pharmacist what your state or local requirements are for getting rid of used syringes and needles.[10]

Part 2
Understanding Background Knowledge

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    Know the parts of a syringe. It'll be much easier to administer a shot if you understand the mechanics behind what you're doing.
    • Syringes have three main parts: the needle, barrel and plunger. The needle goes into the muscle; the barrel has markings, either in cm3s (cubic centimeters) or mLs (milliliters), with numbers next to the markings, and it contains the medicine; the plunger is used to get medicine into and out of the syringe.[11]
    • Medication injected intramuscularly (IM) is measured in cm3s or mLs. The amount of medication in a cm3 is the same as in a mL.
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    Know where to give the injection. The human body has a number of spots that are most receptive.
    • Vastus Lateralis Muscle (Thigh): Look at your thigh and divide it into three equal parts. The middle third is where the injection would go. The thigh is a good place to give yourself an injection because it is easy to see. It is also a good spot for children younger than three years old.[12]
    • Ventrogluteal Muscle (Hip): To find the correct location, place the heel of your hand on the upper, outer part of the thigh where it meets the buttocks. Point your thumb at the groin and your fingers toward the person's head. Form a V with your fingers by separating your first finger from the other three fingers. You will feel the edge of a bone along the tips of your little and ring fingers. The place to give the injection is in the middle of the V. The hip is a good place for an injection for adults and children older than seven months.[13]
    • Deltoid Muscle (Upper arm muscle): Completely expose the upper arm. Feel for the bone that goes across the top of the upper arm. This bone is called the acromion process. The bottom of it will form the base of the triangle. The point of the triangle is directly below the middle of the base at about the level of the armpit. The correct area to give an injection is in the center of the triangle, 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5.1 cm) below the acromion process. This site should not be used if the person is very thin or the muscle is very small.[14]
    • Dorsogluteal Muscle (Buttocks): Expose one side of the buttocks. With an alcohol wipe, draw a line from the top of the crack between the buttocks to the side of the body. Find the middle of that line and go up 3 inches (7.6 cm). From that point, draw another line down and across the first line, ending about halfway down the buttock. You should have drawn a cross. In the upper outer square you will feel a curved bone. The injection will go in the upper outer square below the curved bone. Do not use this site for infants or children younger than three years old; their muscles are not developed enough.[15]
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    Know who you're giving the injection to. Each person has a place that is best to receive the shot. Consider a few things before you do the deed:
    • The person's age. For children and babies up to two years old, the thigh muscle is best. For those three years and older, the thigh or deltoid are both viable options. You should be using somewhere between a 22 and a 30 gauge needle (this will largely be determined by the thickness of the medication — your doctor will tell you which gauge to use).[16]
      • Note: For incredibly small children, a smaller needle is needed. The thigh can also tolerate a larger needle than the arm.[17]
    • Consider previous injection sites. If the person recently received an injection in one area, administer the shot in a different spot on their body. It helps prevent scars and skin changes.[18]
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    Know how to fill the needle with medication. Some syringes get pre-filled with the medication. Other times, the medication is in a vial and needs to be drawn up into the syringe. Before administering medication from a vial, make sure you have the right type of medication, it is not expired, and that it is not discolored or have particles floating in the vial.[19]
    • Sterilize the top of the vial with an alcohol swab.
    • Hold the syringe with the needle pointed up, the cap still on. Draw the plunger back to the line indicating your dose, filling the syringe with air.[20]
    • Insert the needle through the rubber top of the vial and press the plunger, pushing the air into the vial.[21]
    • With the vial upside-down and the tip of needle in the medicine, draw the plunger back again to the proper dose (or a little past if there might be air bubbles). Tap the syringe to move any air bubbles to the top, then push them into the vial. Make sure you still have the correct dose in the syringe.[22]
    • Remove the needle from the vial. If you don't plan on using it right away, make sure you cover the needle with the cap.[23]

Part 3
Alternate Method: Z-Track

When administering an IM injection, the penetrative action of the needle creates a narrow channel, or track, within the tissues. This creates a possibility of medication leaking out of the body. Applying the Z-track technique reduces skin irritation and allows for effective absorption by sealing the medication in the muscle tissue.[24]

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    Repeat the steps of hand-washing, filling the syringe, and choosing and cleaning the injection site.
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    Pull the skin taut 1 inch (2.5 cm) laterally to the side with your non-dominant hand. Firmly hold to keep the skin and subcutaneous tissue in place.
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    Insert the needle at a 90° angle into the muscle layer with your dominant hand. Pull back on the plunger slightly to check for blood return, then slowly push to inject the medication.
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    Keep the needle in place for 10 seconds. This allows the medication to evenly disperse into the tissue.
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    Withdraw the needle in a swift motion and release the skin. A zigzag path is created that closes off the track left by the needle and keeps the medication inside the muscle tissue. As a result, patients should experience less discomfort and lesions at the injection site.
    • Do not massage the site as this can cause the medication to leak, as well as irritation.


  • It takes time to get used to giving IM injections. You will feel unsure and clumsy at first. Remember that practice makes perfect, and it will get easier with time. You can practice by injecting water into an orange.
  • Your doctor or pharmacy can direct you on how to get rid of used needles and syringes. It is important to dispose of them properly for safety reasons. Do not simply throw them in the garbage after use as this is dangerous.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Injections