Managing diabetes can be a pain — literally. And the more blood sugar testing you do, the more of a pain it is, confirms Sacha Uelmen, RDN, CDE, director of nutrition for the American Diabetes Association. Still, monitoring blood sugar levels is a critical component of good diabetes management — research involving more than 5,000 people with diabetes has shown that those who test blood sugar regularly have better blood sugar control than those who rely solely on diabetes medication. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to lessen the pain that comes along with that testing. So if finger pricks make you feel like a voodoo doll, here are eight strategies to try:
1. Test on the Side of Your Finger
When doing diabetes blood sugar testing, resist aiming straight for all that real estate on the tip of your finger — that’s definitely painful. “When testing on your finger, use only the sides of your finger, where there’s better blood flow, and not the pad of the finger,” says Hector Verastigui, RN, CDE, clinical research coordinator at the Texas Diabetes Institute in San Antonio. “Testing on the pad of the finger is more painful.”
2. Warm Up Your Hands
Testing when your hands are cold can be more painful than when they’re warmer. To heat up your fingers, just sit on them briefly, rub them together, or give them a good scrub using warm water and soap. “This will get the blood flow going,” says Verastigui. When getting that all-important drop of blood is less painful, managing diabetes is easier.
3. Adjust the Lancet Depth
If blood sugar testing is always painful for you, it’s possible that your lancet is set to hit too hard or too deep. Part of managing diabetes includes adjusting the depth and force of the lancet properly. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to do this, or determining 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 result in a less painful diabetes blood sugar test.
4. 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 instead. “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,” says Verastigui. And that makes diabetes blood sugar testing more painful.
5. 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 slightly less pain from the thicker skin. Instead, build on the advice to test on the sides of fingers by using a different finger every time. Testing on your thumb is an option as well, although Verastigui points out that since the thumb is used so often in day-to-day activities, the pain from testing there could last longer. Whether you’ll want to give your thumb a try is an individual choice.
6. Use a Fresh Lancet
Each lancet starts out nice and sharp. But if you use the same one repeatedly for your 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.
7. 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 making a switch if your current one is just too uncomfortable for regular diabetes management. Also make sure you know how to use your system properly. Verastigui suggests 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. For the most successful management of your diabetes, you might want to investigate alternate site testing. This means testing your diabetes blood sugar levels on other parts of your body at times when you aren’t worried about the possibility of low blood sugar. Work with a diabetes educator to learn whether the palm of your hand, a thigh, an arm, or another body part would be a good option, to give your fingers a rest. Your palm can be a particularly good alternative, says Uelmen.