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8 Tips to Reduce Finger Prick Pain

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Managing diabetes can be a pain, literally. And the more blood sugar testing you do, the more of a pain it is, confirmed certified diabetes educator Sacha Uelmen, RD, program director for outpatient diabetes education at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. Monitoring blood sugars is a critical component of diabetes management — research involving more than 5,000 people with diabetes showed that those who tested blood sugar regularly had better blood sugar control than people who were relying solely on diabetes medications. Fortunately, there are ways to lessen the pain that comes along with testing. So if finger pricks make you feel like a voodoo doll, try these eight strategies.

Test on the Side of Your Finger

Testing when your hands are cold can be more painful than when they're warmer. Just sit on your hands briefly, rub them together, or give them a good scrub using warm water and soap to heat up your fingers. “This will get the blood flow going,” said Verastigui. You’ll find it less painful to get that all-important blood drop, which will make managing diabetes easier.

Adjust the Lancet Depth

If blood sugar testing is always painful, it’s possible that your lancet is set to hit too hard or too deeply. Learn how to adjust the depth and force as part of managing diabetes. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to do this or which depth will get you the least painful blood testing experience with the most accurate blood sugar monitoring result, work with a diabetes educator or the nurse in your doctor’s office. If you’re particularly sensitive, using a pediatric lancet could lead to diabetes pain relief.

Skip the Alcohol Wipe

If you’re in the habit of using an alcohol wipe or an alcohol-based sanitizer to clean your finger before lancing, try washing with just soap and water. “We don’t recommend wiping the skin with alcohol because alcohol is an astringent, which tightens the skin and makes obtaining a blood sample more difficult,” said Verastigui. And that makes diabetes blood sugar testing more painful.

Switch Fingers Regularly

When you’re managing diabetes, it’s easy to get in a habit of using the same

finger and the same spot on that finger for blood sugar testing. This leads to calluses and scarring, even if you find there’s a slight diabetes pain reduction from the thicker skin. Instead, build on the advice to test on the sides of fingers by using a different finger every time. Using your thumb is an option as well, although Verastigui pointed out that this digit is used so often in day-to-day activity that it could be painful longer. Whether you'll want to give your thumb a try is an individual choice.

Use a Fresh Lancet

Each lancet starts out nice and sharp. But if you reuse it for diabetes blood sugar testing, as many people try to do, it can become dull. This doesn’t bother everyone, but it could be contributing to your finger-pricking pain. Try changing the lancet with every blood sugar testing to see whether that reduces this diabetes pain. Little changes do matter — a survey of adult African-American women published in the Journal of the National Medical Association revealed that pain from blood sugar testing definitely affects their strategies for managing diabetes, so it makes sense to do everything you can to reduce pain and stay on track.

Get the Best Monitor for You

Different blood glucose monitor systems require different depths, and some let you do blood sugar testing in different locations on your body. Consider a switch if your current one is just too uncomfortable for managing your diabetes. Also make sure you know how to use your system properly. Verastigui suggested sticking with brand names and avoiding too-good-to-be-true sales pitches.

Finding your blood sugar testing “sweet spots” may take some trial and error. You might want to investigate alternate site testing for better management of your diabetes. This lets you use other body parts to test diabetes blood sugar levels at times when you are not worried about the possibility of low blood sugar. Work with a diabetes educator to learn about whether using the palm of your hand, a thigh, an arm, or another body part is another option to give your fingers a rest. Your palm can be a particularly good alternative, said Uelmen.

Last Updated: 10/31/2013

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