Implanon Part 2: In Which There Is a Very Large Needle

Earlier this week, I drove over to my very awesome local sexual health clinic, willingly had my upper left arm anaesthetized, and got a matchstick-sized piece of plastic jammed under the skin just for the heck of it. Well, okay, not exactly...

What I really did was get Implanon inserted, and it was actually a very neat experience. A couple of weeks ago, I'd had a long consultation with one of the doctors at the clinic to talk about whether Implanon would be a good choice for me (the blog entry about that is here) and I decided that even with the potential side effects, it sounded like a pretty darn good idea. No pill to take every day? Cool! No shot every three months? Great! No patch to irritate my skin or ring to irritate my vagina? Even better! Very effective contraception for three whole years? Absolutely fabulous!

At my consultation appointment, once I was sure Implanon was what I wanted, I was given a prescription for the implant. I think some clinics keep a stock on hand so that there's no need for a trip to the pharmacy, but I had to go pick mine up. The whole kit 'n kaboodle (needle and implant, which looks like this) comes in a sealed package so that it stays sterile until it's time for insertion. Here in Australia, it was about $200, which sounds like a lot, but considering that it lasts for up to three years, it actually works out to be quite cheap in the long run. Part of the cost was even covered by my uni health insurance, which was very cool.

The procedure itself was remarkably easy. Before getting started, the doctor explained the insertion procedure one more time, and ran through all the possible side effects again. I signed a consent form, and then it was time to bring out the sharp pointy things.

The implant is inserted in the upper arm (the left, in my case, because I'm right-handed) an inch or so above the elbow, in the sort of groove between the biceps and triceps muscles on the inside of the arm. I lay down with my arm at about shoulder height, and my elbow bent to about a 90 degree angle. The doc used a pen - the same kind used for piercings to mark where the jewelry will be put in - to mark where either end of the little plastic rod would be. Then she disinfected the area with iodine, and gave me a local anaesthetic. This is supposedly the part that most people find the worst because it tends to sting quite a bit, but I have a ridiculously high pain tolerance (so much so that I fell asleep while getting one of my tattoos) and all it felt like was a bit of a pinch. I chilled out for a couple of minutes to let the area become totally numb while the doctor got the insertion needle and implant ready. (Ceiling tiles, FYI, are very boring - they really should put something up there to make it more interesting to look at while you're lying there.) She poked me with the tip of the needle just to make sure I couldn't feel any pain, and then it was insertion time, at which point the needle suddenly looked much larger than it had previously.

The insertion itself felt a bit weird, because anaesthetic only knocks out pain receptors, so I could still feel pressure - it wasn't uncomfortable at all, just a very bizarre sensation. The implant itself is held inside the hollow metal part of the syringe, and to get it in the right spot, the entire needle needs to go under the skin. Then it's a simple matter of pushing the plunger to release the implant, and pulling the needle out so the implant is left in place. There's a clicking sound as the implant is released, and the aforementioned bit of pressure, but other than that it was really hardly noticeable. It was a strange feeling to watch something go under my skin like that, but interesting at the same time. I'm sure some people wouldn't want to look, but I've always been one of those "What are you doing now? What's that for? How does that work? Huh? Huh?" patients, so I watched the whole thing and found it pretty cool. All in all from anaesthetic to bandaging it took no more than five minutes.

After the implant was in place, the doctor asked me to feel it, so that I would know exactly where it was. Then she stuck a really big bandage on it, and wrapped my upper arm in an Ace bandage on top of that to help prevent bruising. The Ace bandage had to stay on for 24 hours, and the waterproof bandage underneath for 72. When I unwrapped it this morning to have a shower, there was a pretty big bruise, and my arm is a bit sore but really not too bad. I bruise very easily, but it's actually not as bad as I was expecting, and the soreness is similar to what you get with a new piercing. I'll probably end up with a scar as well (since I also scar very easily) but it will be tiny - maybe three or four millimeters in diameter.

Bruising and soreness notwithstanding, I'm a very happy camper. I do have to go back in about six weeks just to make sure everything is okay and that it's all healed properly, but after need to think about it for three years! And that is a pretty cool feeling.


Can you constantly feel it under your skin? I'm looking into other methods besides the pill, because me + same time every day = haha, good one.

The insertion part freaks me out, although I didn't realize they numb it!

I also like the idea of progesterone only.

So I noticed your article is dated a couple of years and I just have a couple questions, I have been researching this for about a month now, I am relatively clear about the risks and benefits, and despite the fact that my cousin had her implant removed after only 3 months of having it in her arm because of unbearable cramps, I really want to have it done. My only concerns are about the long term. Did you stick with the Implanon? Or did you have it removed because of complications like other things you tried? Can you still feel the plastic in your arm or did enough tissue cells grow around it so you cant feel it anymore? did your cycle change? lighter or heavier bleeding? stronger cramps? does your am still get sore from time to time? Thanks for all your help, I know this is kind of a long list, but you are the only source that I know who has experienced this first hand and long term. I know that our bodies are different so I wont know how I react to the drug unless Ive taken it, but with your experience I can more easily gauge the probability of certain things happening.