From chickenpox to COVID-19, many illnesses and diseases are commonly fought with vaccines. And the benefits these vaccines deliver are well worth the needle’s pinch. Yet the symptom of arm pain can be an unwanted side effect after receiving a vaccine injection.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
More often than not, there’s not much to worry about when it comes to a little soreness after a shot. It’s relatively normal for any slight pain to linger for a few days because of how the vaccine is affecting your body. In fact, soreness after a shot is a good sign — showing that the medicine is hard at work in your system.
Even so, there are things you can do to help relieve temporary pain from a shot. Family medicine physician Daniel Allan, MD, explains the reasons for the pain, how to deal with it and when to address it with your doctor.
Why does your arm hurt after a shot?
Aside from the tiny pinch you feel from the needle, it’s fairly normal to feel pain after an injection. Typically, no matter what vaccine you’re getting, it’ll be administered in your upper arm or shoulder. So, that’s where you should be prepared to feel some discomfort.
According to Dr. Allan, a couple of things happen during a shot that may cause pain. Once the needle is injected, it releases liquid into your system, which can cause some pain. After that, inflammation sets in after the shot, which leads to the pain or soreness you may experience.
“The body starts to amount an immune response because there’s something foreign in your body,” explains Dr. Allan. “So, the immune system recognizes that and creates an inflammatory response, to react to whatever was injected.”
Dr. Allan also points out that even if you don’t feel much discomfort during the injection or shortly after, you may feel some pain later on. “It can sometimes take hours to begin to really manifest,” he says. “Once the immune system becomes more active and starts creating an antibody response, you’re going to get some sustained pain and inflammation.”
How to prevent arm pain after a vaccine
There are a couple of things you can do to lower your chances of having severe pain in your arm from a shot. In addition, you can take certain steps after a vaccine to decrease any pain or discomfort.
Try these tips before and after you get your next vaccine:
1. Relax your arm
Obviously, it’s normal to tense up a bit when the doctor or nurse pulls out that needle. While it might be easier said than done, the best thing you can do to prevent pain is to simply relax your arm or shoulder before the injection.
“If the muscle actually tenses during the injection, that can create more damage, inflammation and discomfort,” says Dr. Allan.
Simply take some deep breaths and find a distraction so the additional tension doesn’t cause more pain. For children, try and distract them with something so they’re not focusing too much on the needle.
2. Find the right time
If you can help it, try not to schedule a vaccine spontaneously or at the last minute. It’s helpful to plan ahead and pick a date when you don’t have other items on your schedule.
For example, make sure that you aren’t scheduling a shot on a day you might need to do strenuous activities. Also, try and avoid getting your shot in the arm you use the most — that way, you can let your injected arm relax and heal with no worries.
3. Take OTC pain relievers beforehand
Especially if you have a history of feeling extra sore after a vaccine injection, it’s suggested to take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers around two hours before your appointment. Try taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
4. Apply ice and compression
It’s common to feel soreness or experience a bit of redness in the area where you received the vaccine. Remember, your body is going through a certain reaction to the vaccine entering your system, so this is a normal and expected symptom.
One simple way to relieve this kind of inflammation is icing the area when you get home. Do this in short intervals throughout the day to help reduce any swelling and soreness.
“Wrapping your arm under compression, especially early on, also helps reduce inflammation,” notes Dr. Allan.
While you shouldn’t do any intense exercising or workout activities right after a shot, it’s helpful to do some small movements. Focus on stretching your arm to keep it and your shoulder active.
“When you’re beyond the first 12 to 24 hours, you want to make sure you’re moving the arm and getting the blood flowing there to continue to help,” Dr. Allan advises. “It’s good to stretch and engage in light exercise and massage to continue to keep it loose and not let it stiffen up.”
6. Take OTC pain relievers afterward
If you’re still feeling pain after these measures, it’s recommended to try another dose of OTC pain relievers. Just be sure to take the recommended dosage and consult with your doctor if your pain persists.
“Medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen are all very helpful, as long as they’re safe for you to take,” says Dr. Allan.
When to see your doctor
In general, it’s good to know what a common reaction is for you when after receiving a vaccine. Then pay attention to whether a specific vaccine injection hurts longer than it usually does.
“If there’s a rash or streaking up the arm, if you’re having anything in the way of excessive swelling or trouble even moving the arm, or if you’re feeling severe pain, these are signs for concern,” warns Dr. Allan.
If you experience any of these symptoms, give your doctor a call. If you feel like your pain from a vaccine is persisting for too long, it may be a sign of a bigger issue that may need to be checked out.
“I would recommend calling sooner rather than later,” says Dr. Allan “If you’re not sure, you’re better off to call early rather than late.”
It’s good to know that different shots can pose different symptoms and reactions. So it’s important to be aware of how certain vaccines may affect you and what to expect. Before signing up for your next vaccine, be sure to check the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website on the different kinds of immunizations and what to know before getting them.