Do Ivs Hurt More Than Shots? A Detailed Comparison

Getting poked with a needle is never an enjoyable experience. If you’ve ever had blood drawn, received an vaccination, or been hooked up to an IV, you know that needles can cause discomfort and pain.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: While IV placements often hurt more initially due to the larger needle size, the pain tends to subside once the IV is in place. Shots involve smaller gauge needles but can be more painful overall since the medication is typically injected quickly without any numbing medication.

In this comprehensive 3000 word guide, we will analyze the differences between IVs and shots when it comes to pain and discomfort. We’ll look at the needle sizes used, medications and fluids administered, location on the body, as well as pain management techniques for both intravenous lines and injections.

Needle Sizes Used for IVs vs Shots

Common IV Gauge Sizes

When it comes to needle sizes used for intravenous (IV) procedures, healthcare professionals typically use a variety of gauge sizes depending on the specific needs of the patient. The most commonly used IV gauge sizes are 18, 20, and 22.

These numbers refer to the diameter of the needle, with a smaller gauge indicating a larger diameter. The larger the gauge number, the smaller the needle size. For example, an 18-gauge needle has a larger diameter than a 22-gauge needle.

The choice of gauge size depends on factors such as the patient’s age, vein size, and the type of medication being administered.

Common Shot Needle Gauges

On the other hand, shots or injections typically use smaller gauge needles compared to IV procedures. Common shot needle gauges include 23, 25, and 27. These smaller gauge sizes are often used for vaccinations, blood draws, and other types of injections.

The smaller size allows for more precise delivery of medication or fluids into the body.

Larger Bore IV Needles Initially Hurt More

While both IVs and shots involve the use of needles, some people may wonder if one method is more painful than the other. It is important to note that pain perception can vary from person to person. However, in general, larger bore IV needles used for certain procedures may cause more initial discomfort compared to smaller gauge shot needles.

This is because larger bore needles have a larger diameter, which can result in more pressure being applied to the vein during insertion. However, once the needle is in place, the discomfort typically subsides.

It’s worth mentioning that healthcare professionals are trained to minimize discomfort during IV and shot procedures. They use techniques such as applying numbing agents or using smaller gauge needles when appropriate.

Additionally, advancements in needle technology have also contributed to reducing pain during these procedures.

For more information on needle sizes and pain management during IVs and shots, you can visit reputable medical websites such as Mayo Clinic or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Medications and Fluids Delivered Via IV vs Injection

IV Fluids Keep the Vein Open Longer

When it comes to delivering fluids, intravenous (IV) administration is often preferred over injections. IV fluids are typically delivered through a small catheter inserted directly into a vein, allowing for a continuous flow of fluids.

This method helps to keep the vein open for a longer period of time, making it easier to administer medications or additional fluids if needed. In contrast, injections typically involve a single puncture of the skin and are administered more quickly.

IV Medications Typically Delivered Slowly

When medications are administered through an IV, they are often delivered slowly and continuously over a specified period of time. This allows for better control of the medication’s effects and reduces the risk of adverse reactions.

The slow delivery rate also gives healthcare professionals the opportunity to closely monitor the patient’s response to the medication and adjust the dosage if necessary. On the other hand, injections are usually administered more quickly and have a rapid onset of action.

Shots Often Administered Quickly Without Anesthetic

When it comes to injections, they are often administered more quickly compared to IV medications. Healthcare professionals use needles to deliver medications directly into the muscle, subcutaneous tissue, or skin.

Injections are typically given without local anesthesia, which can cause a brief moment of discomfort or pain. However, the discomfort experienced from injections is often short-lived and well-tolerated by most individuals.

In contrast, IV medications are delivered directly into the bloodstream and do not require the use of needles.

It’s important to note that the choice between IV administration and injections depends on various factors, including the specific medication or fluid being administered, the patient’s condition, and the desired onset of action.

Healthcare professionals will determine the most appropriate route of administration based on these considerations.

Insertion Locations on the Body

When it comes to receiving medical treatment, both IVs and shots are common methods of administering medications or fluids. The discomfort experienced during these procedures can vary depending on where they are inserted on the body.

Let’s take a closer look at the different insertion locations for IVs and shots.

Common IV Placement Sites

IVs are typically inserted into veins, allowing medications and fluids to be delivered directly into the bloodstream. Common IV placement sites include the hand, arm, wrist, and sometimes the foot. The choice of site depends on factors such as the patient’s condition and the type of treatment being administered.

The hand and wrist are often preferred for easier access and visibility.

According to a study published in the Journal of Vascular Access, the most common site for IV insertion is the forearm, followed by the hand. These sites are considered to be relatively less painful, with the wrist being the least painful. However, individual experiences may vary.

Common Injection Locations

Shots, on the other hand, are typically administered subcutaneously or intramuscularly. Subcutaneous injections are given just beneath the skin, while intramuscular injections are delivered directly into the muscle tissue.

Common injection locations include the upper arm, thigh, buttocks, and abdomen.

A study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that the thigh is the most common site for injections in infants and young children, while the upper arm is commonly used for older children and adults.

The choice of injection site may vary depending on the medication being administered and the patient’s age.

Hand and Wrist IVs More Painful

When comparing the pain levels between IVs and shots, it is important to note that individual experiences can differ. However, some studies suggest that IVs inserted in the hand and wrist can be more painful than shots administered in common injection locations.

According to a survey conducted by the Association for Vascular Access, patients reported higher pain scores for hand and wrist IV insertions compared to other sites. This may be due to the sensitivity of the skin and veins in these areas.

Pain Management for IV Insertion and Shots

Using Numbing Medication for IV Placement

When it comes to managing pain during IV insertion, healthcare professionals have various techniques at their disposal. One common method is the use of numbing medication. This medication, typically a local anesthetic, is applied to the area where the IV will be inserted.

The numbing medication helps to alleviate discomfort and reduce the sensation of pain during the procedure. It is important to note that the use of numbing medication may not completely eliminate all sensation, but it can significantly reduce the pain associated with IV insertion.

Applying Numbing Sprays Before Shots

Similarly, for shots, healthcare providers may opt to use numbing sprays to help manage pain. These sprays contain lidocaine or other topical anesthetics that temporarily numb the skin. By applying the numbing spray to the injection site before administering the shot, the patient’s discomfort can be minimized.

However, it is worth mentioning that the effectiveness of numbing sprays may vary from person to person, and some individuals may still experience slight discomfort during the injection process.

Using Distractions During the Procedure

Another technique employed by healthcare professionals to manage pain during both IV insertion and shots is the use of distractions. Distractions can help divert the patient’s attention away from the procedure, reducing anxiety and perceived pain.

Common distractions include engaging in conversation, watching TV shows or movies, listening to music, or using virtual reality devices. Research has shown that distractions can be highly effective in reducing pain perception, making the procedure more tolerable for patients.

It is important to communicate with your healthcare provider about your concerns regarding pain management during IV insertion or shots. They can provide you with the best options available and tailor the approach to your specific needs.

Which Hurts More: Final Verdict

After considering the various factors involved, it can be concluded that the degree of discomfort experienced during IV insertion and shots can vary from person to person. However, there are a few key points to consider when comparing the pain levels.

The IV Insertion Hurts More Initially

When it comes to the initial moment of the procedure, many individuals report that the IV insertion can be more painful than receiving a shot. This is because the needle used for IV insertion is typically larger and longer than the needle used for a standard shot.

Additionally, the IV needle is inserted directly into a vein, which can cause a momentary stinging sensation. However, it is important to note that the discomfort subsides quickly once the needle is in place.

Shots Can Be Very Painful During Injection

On the other hand, shots can be quite painful during the actual injection. The needle is inserted into the muscle or subcutaneous tissue, and this can cause a sharp or burning pain that lingers for a short duration.

The pain experienced during a shot largely depends on the location of the injection site and individual pain tolerance.

Overall Degree of Discomfort Depends on Factors

It is important to understand that the overall degree of discomfort experienced during IV insertion and shots depends on various factors, such as:

  • The individual’s pain tolerance
  • The skill of the healthcare professional administering the procedure
  • The location of the injection site
  • The size of the needle used

Additionally, anxiety and fear can amplify the perception of pain. It is common for individuals to feel more discomfort if they are anxious or have a fear of needles. Therefore, it is crucial for healthcare professionals to provide a supportive and calming environment during these procedures to help minimize any potential discomfort.


To conclude, determining whether intravenous lines or shots hurt more depends greatly on the individual situation. Factors like needle gauge, insertion location, fluid or medication being administered, use of anesthetics, and personal pain tolerance all play a role.

In general, inserting an IV line tends to cause more initial discomfort due to the use of larger gauge needles penetrating the skin and vein. However, once the IV is properly placed and fluids can flow freely, the pain often subsides.

On the other hand, the actual injection of medication via a shot causes a sharp, intense pain that is usually over quickly. The smaller needle sizes used are less invasive, but the lack of anesthetic and quick push of medication leads to momentary extreme discomfort.

Understanding the differences between intravenous catheters and injections can help you better prepare if faced with either scenario. Being aware of pain management options, from numbing creams to distraction techniques, allows you to advocate for your own comfort during these needle stick procedures.

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