Sciatic nerve injury from intramuscular injection: a persistent and global problem

Int J Clin Pract. 2010 Oct;64(11):1573-1579. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-1241.2009.02177.x.


Background/aims: An intramuscular (i.m.) injection into the buttock risks damaging the sciatic nerve. Safe injection practices need to be understood by doctors and nurses alike. The aims of this study were to determine if sciatic nerve injury because of i.m. injection is a continuing problem and to establish the availability of published guidelines on i.m. injection techniques.

Methods: Intramuscular injection related sciatic nerve injury claims to the New Zealand Accident Compensation Corporation between July 2005 and September 2008 were reviewed. Nursing organisations were surveyed to enquire about guidelines on i.m. injection. I.m. injection related sciatic nerve injuries in the medical and medicolegal literature (1989-2009) were systematically reviewed.

Results: There were eight claims for sciatic nerve injection injury made to the ACC during the 3-year study period; all were in young adults. Only one of the nursing organisations contacted had published guidelines on i.m. injection technique, and these related specifically to immunisation. Seventeen reports of patients with sciatic nerve injury from i.m. injection were identified comprising a total of 1506 patients, at least 80% of which were children. Nine court decisions finding in favour of the plaintiff were identified, all from the North American legal system. A broad range of drugs were implicated in the offending i.m. injections.

Conclusions: Sciatic nerve injury from an i.m. injection in the upper outer quadrant of the buttock is an avoidable but persistent global problem, affecting patients in both wealthy and poorer healthcare systems. The consequences of this injury are potentially devastating. Safer alternative sites for i.m. injection exist. These should be promoted more widely by medical and nursing organisations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Buttocks
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intramuscular / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Malpractice / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Needlestick Injuries / complications*
  • New Zealand
  • Sciatic Nerve / injuries*
  • Young Adult