Subcutaneous Injection of Drugs: Literature Review of Factors Influencing Pain Sensation at the Injection Site

Adv Ther. 2019 Nov;36(11):2986-2996. doi: 10.1007/s12325-019-01101-6. Epub 2019 Oct 5.


The subcutaneous administration route is widely used to administer different types of drugs given its high bioavailability and rapid onset of action. However, the sensation of pain at the injection site might reduce patient adherence. Apart from a direct effect of the drug itself, several factors can influence the sensation of pain: needle features, injection site, volume injected, injection speed, osmolality, viscosity and pH of formulation, as well as the kind of excipients employed, including buffers and preservatives. Short and thin needles, conveniently lubricated and with sharp tips, are generally used to minimize pain, although the anatomic injection site (abdomen versus thigh) also affects the sensation of pain. Large subcutaneous injection volumes are associated with pain. In this sense, the maximum volume generally accepted is around 1.5 ml, although volumes of up to 3 ml are well tolerated when injected in the abdomen. Injected volumes of up to 0.5-0.8 ml are not expected to increase substantially the pain produced by the needle insertion. Ideally, injectable products should be formulated as isotonic solutions (osmolality of about 300 mOsm/kg) and no more than 600 mOs/kg have to be used in order to prevent pain. A pH close to the physiological one is recommended to minimize pain, irritation, and tissue damage. Buffers are frequently added to parenteral formulations to optimize solubility and stability by adjusting the pH; however, their strength should be kept as low as possible to avoid pain upon injection. The data available recommend the concentration of phosphate buffer be limited to 10 mM and that the concentration of citrate buffer should be lower than 7.3 mM to avoid an increased sensation of pain. In the case of preservatives, which are required in multiple-dose preparations, m-cresol seems to be more painful than benzyl alcohol and phenol.Funding: Sandoz SA.

Keywords: Buffer composition; Pain; Pharmacology; Preservatives; Subcutaneous injection; Volume injected.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Injection Site Reaction / etiology*
  • Injections, Subcutaneous / adverse effects*
  • Injections, Subcutaneous / methods
  • Needles / adverse effects*
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Patient Compliance
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage*
  • Thigh


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.9861800