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How Does a Syringe Work?

How Does a Syringe Work?

Even before the pandemic, it was estimated that over 16 billion injections were administered to patients every year. At the heart of this gargantuan public health, a statistic is a tiny little tool: the syringe and hypodermic needle. Ever since its invention, the humble syringe has been saving lives and keeping us healthy.

But how does a syringe work?

Despite their huge importance, very few people really understand how these little miracles do their job. Well, we think it’s high time the neat little needle got its due.

Let’s dive into the workings of the syringe.

A Hypodermic History

Although there are records of truly ancient methods of getting medicines into people’s veins, the hypodermic needle as we know it didn’t come about until the 17th century.

Back then, inventors like Christopher Wren tried out rudimentary syringes made of animal bladders and goose quills. Less sanitary than the factory-produced marvels we have today, but recognizably ‘a syringe’ nevertheless.

Despite these experiments, hypodermics only took off in the 19th century. This century of innovation saw doctors come to grips with localized anesthetics and other medicines that needed to be administered to specific parts of the body.

Very quickly, 19th-century physicians were using glass syringes that we’d still recognize today. Today, though, modern syringes are made from all sorts of materials: find out more about that at

Soon after, people iterated on the design, and we had things like Luer lock syringes, retractable syringes, and lots more!

Not bad for a gadget that started as a bird feather and a bladder!

So How Does a Syringe Work?

That potted history doesn’t tell us how syringes work, though. Let’s take a look at the function of a syringe pump.

Syringes work through pressure: the plunger and the tube of a syringe work to create an airtight seal. A syringe with its plunger pushed all the way down doesn’t have anything in it, not even air!

That means when you dunk the needle into a liquid and pull the plunger back, that liquid will rush into the tube to fill the vacuum. Because there wasn’t any air in the tube before the syringe was filled, doctors can be sure there aren’t any nasty air bubbles lurking in the medicine.

And, of course, the reverse is also true. Push the plunger back down, and every ounce of what’s inside will be pushed out thanks to the seal.

Simple, right?

Saving Lives, One Needle at a Time

And there you have it, a quick overview of the life and workings of the syringe and hypodermic needle. Next time someone asks, ‘How does a syringe work?’ you can leap in with the answer.

Incredibly, such a simple tool can be so foundational to modern medicine, but we’d all be a lot poorlier without them.

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