How to stop post-vaccine arm soreness


by Lawrentina D’Souza

It’s flu season, and whether you’re getting vaccinated at Health Services or off campus, it’s apparent that what’s good for our health isn’t necessarily the most painless thing. It turns out that the post-vaccine swelling and pain commonly experienced after getting a shot has a name; Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA).

Dr. Sherilyn Houle, Dr. Kelly Grindrod, and Ashley Bancsi at the University of Waterloo have been looking into ways to minimize the effects of SIRVA which include:

1. Wearing a sleeveless or ‘easy arm access,’ shirt to avoid pulling the shirt down for a vaccination – which in fact causes the needle to go into the shoulder rather than the arm

2. Correct posture – such as placing your hand on your hip, to relax the arm at the site of injection

3. Ensuring that both parties (administrator and recipient) are seated or standing for the vaccination since the height and angle difference increases risk of SIRVA.

These University of Waterloo researchers, aided by University of Waterloo alumnus Adrian Poon, have also designed an infographic for health professionals to ensure that vaccination administration is as efficient and painless as possible.

SIRVA is usually caused by:

1. Short needles injecting under the skin rather than into muscle.

2. Long needles injecting into bone or nerves.

3. Injecting patients’ nerves when the needle is too low or sideways.

4. Injecting patients’ shoulder joints when the needle is too high.

Although some discomfort and limited arm motion following vaccinations is normal, SIRVA pain usually lasts more than two days, typically months, and will not go away with the help of common painkillers such as Tylenol or Advil. As rare as it is, it is usually diagnosed by a doctor with an ultrasound and treated with physiotherapy and steroid medication.

It’s often difficult to keep on top of eating well, sleeping regularly, and exercising when students are busy with university and work. If you choose to get vaccinated – both to protect yourself and the less immune in the community – make sure to make it as painless a process as possible with the above SIRVA knowledge and tips.


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