Shoulder injury related to vaccine administration

Vaccination side effects

When you have any vaccination, you can expect some side effects. These are often related to your immune system’s response to the vaccination itself, but may also be related to your musculoskeletal system’s response to the needle site. 

So, if your shoulder hurts for more than the average maximum of five days post vaccination, what are the chances that the vaccination itself has caused an injury? The truth is that this can happen, although more rarely than you might think.

The injury is referred to as SIRVA (shoulder injury related to vaccine administration). It is most often caused by the vaccination site being too high and causing inflammation of the subacromial/deltoid bursa. Even more rarely, it could be caused by the needle being put too close to the arm bone and irritating the periosteum (the pain sensitive wrapping of your bone); or the vaccination needle has scratched one of the nerves in the shoulder.

Because so many people are undergoing vaccination there will of course be a few people whose shoulder pain lasts for longer than 5 days (we see patients presenting with pain that has lasted more than a few weeks daily in our clinical practice). However, research has shown that in 12,000 people given the flu vaccine, there was no difference in the incidence of shoulder pain onset in the 3 months after vaccination than the 3 months before vaccination.

‘Pain inhibition’ ie normal post-vaccination pain which causes you to use your arm less could aggravate any quiescent shoulder problems which may then replicate SIRVA bursitis.

So what can you do if you are worried you have vaccine-related shoulder pain?

Osteopaths and physiotherapists are very well placed to assess and treat shoulder pain. We are able to perform a number of tests that will incriminate different structures leading to a confident diagnosis and prognosis with a well structured treatment plan.

In almost all cases of shoulder pain, we would recommend keeping it moving! Exercise it within a pain-free range, and if you’re not sure what you should do, book an appointment with one of our outstanding team members.

Written by Andrea Rippe