The People's Perspective on Medicine

Have You Had Lasting Pain from a Flu Shot?

Some readers have experienced lasting pain in their shoulders following a vaccination. This may be due to the shot being administered to the wrong site.
Vaccine or flu shot in injection needle. Doctor working with patient’s arm. Physician or nurse giving vaccination and immunity to virus, influenza or HPV with syringe. Appointment with medical expert.

At this time of year, public health experts urge everyone who hasn’t already been vaccinated to get a flu shot. People develop immunity within about two weeks of immunization. Most people expect to get the shot and go on with their lives, with no more than mild soreness in the jabbed arm the next day. However, some people experience lasting pain from a vaccination. Has this happened to you?

Lasting Pain in a Shoulder Following Vaccination:

Q. I have had chronic pain in my left shoulder after receiving the influenza vaccination approximately two months ago. The injection site felt high on my shoulder the day I received it, and I have had lasting pain from the site radiating to my neck and upper back as well as pain during left arm abduction movements ever since.

The pharmacy manager at the hospital where I work said that there have been no other complaints. I am a fairly healthy middle-aged woman. I work out regularly and teach a group exercise class every week. The pain from this injection has set me back and has inhibited my energy, mood and movement.

A. We have heard from other readers who have experienced long-lasting pain following a flu shot. We are not sure whether this is a reaction to the immunization itself or whether it is due to suboptimal injection technique. Healthcare providers have written about “shoulder injury related to vaccine administration,” or SIRVA (Canadian Family Physician, Jan. 2019). 

The authors began their discussion:

“Shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA) is a preventable occurrence caused by the injection of a vaccine into the shoulder capsule rather than the deltoid muscle. As a result, inflammation of the shoulder structures causes patients to experience pain, a decreased range of motion, and a decreased quality of life.”

They included a discussion of proper landmarking to avoid injecting vaccine into the wrong site. You will also find a helpful diagram in this paper.

Report Your Reaction:

We encourage you to report your reaction to the joint FDA and CDC Vaccine Adverse Events database. An analysis of this database concluded that lasting pain following vaccination is uncommon, but improperly administered shots might be responsible for some reactions (Vaccine, Nov. 26, 2019).

Other Readers Have Suffered Lasting Pain from Vaccinations:

Another reader responded to your story:

“I was astonished to see my exact experience with the flu vaccine including the comment of a high injection site. My shoulder was painful for over two months and is still occasionally uncomfortable. I will be reporting my experience to the Vaccine adverse reporting site.

“Thank you for publishing that letter. It’s good to know I’m not the only one with this experience and also there is something I can do about it.”

Lisa described her experience and included a photo:

“Eleven days after my flu shot (the first time I ever bled from one), I am still badly bruised (first time I ever bruised from one). I also have limited range of motion and can’t sleep on that side.

“It looks like it was given too high (photo of brusing/location posted here)”

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Beatrice also had a bad reaction:

“I have bad pain in my left arm muscle where I got the flu shot. It didn’t hurt when I got it, but started hurting a while after that. It has not gone away. I have trouble lifting my arm or moving. I am always in pain with it. Even at rest sitting down, it hurts. It just always hurts and quite a bit.

“I went to the doctor for it and was asked my pain level. I said 6 at rest and 8 when using it. She was not very aggressive with finding out what was wrong with it, but just told me to take Tylenol for it. I need more help than that. I have lost some movement in the arm and have trouble combing my hair/washing my hair, bathing, etc. It just always hurts so much.”

Colette is suffering lasting pain:

“I received my flu shot (Fluzone quad) Oct 24, 2019, and since then my arm has been sore and weak. I can’t sleep on that side and find it hard to find a comfortable sleeping position. It hurts when I try to put on a shirt or my coat. Some days it’s worse than others: my shoulder throbs and the pain radiates to my elbow and my back. I went to my doctor and he sent me for an ultrasound. I haven’t gotten my results yet, but he does feel a lump and thinks maybe I have an intramuscular hematoma from the flu shot injection. I’m hoping this will resolve shortly, as skiing season is here.”

So is Sue:

“I started getting the flu shot every year after my husband landed in the ER with the flu 10 years ago. Usually, the arm pain only lasts a week. This year my arm pain started a few hours after getting the flu shot in early September, and it has just kept getting worse for the last month. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since the shot. Every time I bump my arm or roll over on it, I wake up. It is difficult to do my job anymore since my work involves a lot of computer time, and it hurts to type or use the mouse.

When I went to the doctor, they gave me oral steroids and referred me to a neurologist. The steroids took the edge off the pain but they are about to run out. The earliest neurologist appointment I could get is six months away. I would rather have the flu than get another flu shot, since I would have been better by now.”

Aleta encourages others who have had lasting pain from a flu shot to report the problem:

“It is, in fact, possible to register with the government and with the appropriate drug manufacturer if you suspect an adverse reaction to a vaccination. I am currently filling out the form sent to me by Sanofi when I called their customer service number to complain about the fact my arm is still sort some five months after my flu shot — which was a new type. They will ask you for the date of your vaccination, the lot number (which I got from the doctor’s office) and the name of the person administering the shot, so you’ll want to gather that information, if at all possible.

“Here is the government website for reporting: https://vaers.hhs.gov/data/index

“If it’s helpful, the number for Sanofi is 570-957-7187, or http://www.sanofipasteur.us

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Bancsi A et al, "Shoulder injury related to vaccine administration and other injection site events." Canadian Family Physician, Jan. 2019.
  • Hibbs BF et al, "Reports of atypical shoulder pain and dysfunction following inactivated influenza vaccine, Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), 2010-2017." Vaccine, Nov. 26, 2019. DOI: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2019.11.023
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Not sure if my earlier post was successful.

My injection injured a nerve in my shoulder. The pain was searing and excruciating. The medical practice denies any responsibility. Can someone please help me with what recourse legally I might have? And how, in the long term, to heal this injury? Thanks.

I wrote to People’s Pharmacy about this. The first vaccine that I had this reaction with was actually a pneumonia shot. I couldn’t use my arm for a day. I looked it up and, it was all about SIRVA. Some people have permanent injury. They put into my records that it was the vaccine even though I knew that wasn’t the case. The next time I was at a pharmacy several years later where I received a flu shot. I have since sent this info to friends in the medical field, an MD, PhD who teaches nursing and several MA’s, and RN’s. None of them had ever heard of it. I am very careful that they are not injecting into the bursa. The needle goes into that area much easier than below in the muscle.

Exactly where should the shot be given; can you get it in your butt?

This kind of reporting is nothing but Good! We need to know about these vaccines and what can happen. It probably helps keep the vaccine advocates on their toes, and makes it more likely that they will work toward making them safer.

I have heard from a medical malpractice attorney that improper administration of the vaccination into an area other than appropriate muscle (usually placed too high into a “depression”area between the muscles) can indeed cause debilitating pain through continuous inflammation that deteriorates the surrounding muscle. The attorney said that doctors often don’t recognize this and continue to dismiss patient complaints. If it is really long-lasting after a few weeks, find a specialist who knows about SIRVA. Yes, SIRVA is indeed a real condition but one many doctors don’t fully understand.

I had a year and a half of restricted mobility (gradually improving over this time). I received my shot from a student nurse clinic and was one of the first to get a shot that day. My shot was very high and the injection itself was very painful. I knew something was not right.

I also had months of persistent pain about 15 years ago after getting the injection too high on my shoulder. (The injection itself hurt more than usual also, going into the wrong tissue.) A massage therapist alerted me to the possibility that the serum was trapped in the connective tissue (shoulder capsule?), and she worked the area thoroughly to try to release the trapped vaccine. For a couple of days my shoulder hurt more, but then the pain went away. I still get a flu shot every year, the rest of them in the appropriate location, and I have not had pain again. Don’t know if massage therapy would work for everyone, but it worked for me.

This is minor, I guess, and was a DPT shot, not flu. I noticed a red pimple on my arm about a week after getting the shot, so I had my husband lance it for me. I washed it carefully, and put some antibiotic ointment on it with a band aid. Next day, I had a rash over my upper arm. Later, and for the next 6 months, I noticed my armpit was somewhat swollen. All of this eventually resolved, but I’m done with DPT shots.

My “misdirected” flu shot went through my rotator cuff and into the humeral head. An MRI was needed to properly diagnose.
Two years later, after surgery 16 months ago, I have improved range of motion, decreased strength and fairly constant but less severe pain. I have been unable to return to work. This has totally affected my quality of life.
Definitely not a NSAID or steroid quick fix.

In 2010—9years ago—I had a flu shot. Within a few days the pain started in my upper arm, at the site of the flu shot. Ten years later, the weakness and pain remain. I cannot use an (exercise) weight in my left hand as in my right; my range of motion is severely diminished in my left; and occasionally the left arm aches incessantly. I believe that the shot was administered into a nerve rather than a muscle, and the lasting ache/pain/disability is due to the poorly-administered vaccine. I received it at a retail pharmacy, rather than a doctor’s office and will never do that again.

I won’t be getting a flu shot. My arm and shoulder are only now recovering from a tetanus booster shot I received in March of 2018 — more than a year ago. I can empathize with the people you quote in this story. For almost a year, I would wake up with my right arm and shoulder throbbing. Only in the past month have I been able to start returning to my previous level of workouts. (Pre-tetanus shot I arm-curled 40 pounds. I’m now up to 30.)

The doctor’s office didn’t seem to think this was any big deal. Seems like the minute you hit 60 any problems you have are dismissed as age-related. I learned about SIRVA through my own research. There are even attorneys who specialize in SIRVA.

I’m not suing anyone, but I’ve become very leery of shots. I still haven’t had a shingles shot.

I suffered from SIRVA after receiving a tetanus shot, and my husband suffered after receiving the flu shot. PT helped to alleviate my symptoms. I now ask for a short needle when I receive a vaccine, as my arms are thin-ish (muscular but not large).

About 5 yrs ago I was experiencing a 2 1/2 month bout with a sinus headache. I had a regular visit with the doctor handling my low thyroid output and when I mentioned that to him he said “You must have had the senior flu shot” I get the regular shot now

Very interesting – I got my shot over a month ago and am still having pain and difficulty with movement – thank goodness I got the shot in my left arm. Mine was not given as high on the arm as described but I’ve been wondering if it was the way the shot was given or some kind of inflammatory reaction.

This happened to me several years ago. The pain was excruciating, and I could not even lift my arm parallel to my shoulder. This was disastrous for me, as I am a restaurant server! After doing some online research (my now-ex doctor was dismissive of the problem), I found out it was likely related to the way my flu shot was administered. I not only reported it to the CDC, but also to an attorney who was able to get me a payment from the government for lost wages and for future problems. Several years later, I still have problems. But I am diabetic so it is imperative I receive the flu vaccine. Now I’m very careful to ensure they inject it in the correct manner.

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