How to Avoid Diabetes Finger Prick Pain
There are no two ways about it, pricking your finger to test your blood glucose level can be a pain both physically and metaphorically. For most type 1 and type 2 diabetics though, this unpleasant process is a fact of life that must be performed multiple times each and every day. Over the years I have learned how to minimise the pain caused by finger pricking. Here are my top tips.
Prick the outsides of the fingers
When I was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes I distinctly remember the doctor opening a blood glucose testing kit, setting up the lancing device and pricking the middle of the tip of my index finger. Needless to say this wasn’t the most pleasant experience. The problem with this method is the pads of the fingertips have more nerve endings so it is more painful to prick. Instead, prick the outside portions of the fingertips. Pricking either side of the finger instead of the pad will make the process a lot more bearable.
Alternate between fingers
Puncturing the same part of the same finger day in and day out can result in scarring and calluses. This can thicken the skin but can also make it more difficult to extract blood. Instead, alternate between fingers each you time test your blood glucose. I personally use the pinky, ring and middle fingertips on both hands and switch between the inside and outside portions for each test. You can use a random rotation or a more fixed schedule to ensure you’re not pricking the same piece of skin too often.
Start with a short lancet depth
It is usually easy to adjust the depth of the lancet puncture by twisting the depth setting on the lancing device. Setting the lancet depth too high will result in a more painful finger prick and too much blood being extracted. You want to obtain just enough blood for a successful test but not more than you need. The best way to do this is to set the lancet depth to the shortest option and prick your finger. If enough blood is extracted for a successful test then you should continue using this depth setting. If it’s not, increase the lancet depth and try again. Repeat this process until you have found the correct lancet depth that produces the optimal blood sample.
Warm up your hands
When your hands are cold it can be difficult to extract blood which may require increased lancet depth or re-testing. To avoid an unsuccessful finger prick, warm your hands before you test your blood glucose. Personally I like to wash my hands with soap and warm water prior to testing which increases blood flow in the fingers resulting in a better chance of extracting blood with the first try. Washing the hands has the additional benefit of removing any sugar from the fingers which may result in an unreliable test result.
Squeeze the finger
Sometimes you may prick your finger and immediately gauge that not enough blood has come out to provide a successful glucose test. Instead of wiping the blood and pricking the finger again, try gently squeezing the finger. Often a little more blood will be extracted which will be enough for a successful test. This little trick can avoid potentially dozens or hundreds of unwanted re-tests over the course of a year.
Avoid alcohol wipes
Alcohol wipes can be used to clean the site prior to a finger prick test however they dry and tighten the skin which makes it harder for the lancet to puncture. If the lancet doesn’t puncture the skin then another finger prick will be required, possibly with an increased lancet depth.
Use a new lancet
It can be easy to get lazy and re-use the same lancet but doing so can make the lancet blunt. As you would expect, a blunt lancet is less effective at puncturing the skin which can result in re-tests. To avoid the need for multiple finger pricks be sure to change the lancet after each test. A fresh lancet will be sharp and successfully puncture the skin while also ensuring you produce a constant and expected blood sample with your regular lancet depth setting.
Set up your monitor first
Before you prick your finger, ensure your glucose monitor is ready for use with the testing strip inserted immediately beforehand. If your monitor is not ready after you have extracted blood, setting up a testing strip can be awkward. It may result in your blood sample trickling down your hand or getting wiped off by accident which will mean another finger prick being needed.
The truth is, blood glucose testing isn’t fun but it can be made much more bearable by setting up the process to best minimise failed tests and reduce puncture pain. Over time you get used to finger pricking and it will become a non-issue. You will find your own little tips and tricks along the way that help optimise your blood glucose testing procedure. Got any recommendations of your own that could help others? Share them in the comments below!