Some people experience shoulder pain after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccinations of all types can cause redness, swelling, and pain.

These are normal reactions to vaccinations. They are part of the body’s natural process of building immunity.

In some cases, people experience pain if a healthcare professional incorrectly injects the vaccine into the shoulder. This can cause inflammation that can be painful and decrease the shoulder’s range of motion.

Read more to learn about what type of shoulder pain is normal after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, how to manage it, and more.

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A person may experience shoulder pain after the COVID-19 vaccine for two reasons.

It may be a normal reaction at the injection site. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 85% of people experienced redness, swelling, and pain at the injection site in the 7 days following vaccination with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

While reactions vary by vaccination type, it is typical for individuals to experience irritation and inflammation after getting the vaccine. These common localized reactions are usually short-lived and mild.

Less commonly, an individual may experience more extensive shoulder pain after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

If a medical professional administers the injection improperly, this can cause injury to the shoulder joint, leading to pain and swelling. Doctors use the term SIRVA, which stands for shoulder injury related to vaccine administration, to describe this.

Any vaccination can cause SIRVA. It is not the vaccine itself that causes the complication — instead, it is the way a person administers the vaccine.

SIRVA occurs when a healthcare professional injects a vaccine too high or too deep into the shoulder. It is an underreported and preventable event.

Typically, shoulder injections should enter the deltoid muscle. However, an improperly administered shot can graze bone or nerve. It may also puncture the bursa, which is the fluid-filled sac protecting the shoulder tendons.

When this occurs, an individual can immediately have pain and difficultly moving their shoulder. However, it may take hours or days for symptoms to appear.

Over time, an individual may experience intense pain and develop shoulder conditions, such as a rotator cuff tear, bursitis, or tendinitis.

In the long term, the condition can decrease a person’s range of motion.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program covers SIRVA injuries, and individuals may qualify to receive compensation for SIRVA-related claims.

According to experts, SIRVA associated with any vaccination is relatively rare.

Medical professionals learn how to properly administer vaccines through in-depth training during their education. They learn how to avoid injury when giving a shot, so they are aware of the risks of improper administration.

Reports of SIRVA with the COVID-19 vaccine are scarce. However, the injury is often underreported, and therefore, it is hard to determine just how common SIRVA with the COVID-19 vaccine is.

Several case studies have reported SIRVA in people who received a COVID-19 shot.

A 2021 report notes two cases of SIRVA following administration of mRNA COVID-19 vaccinations.

According to another 2021 report, a 52-year-old Thai male experienced shoulder pain with limited range of motion 3 days after getting the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine. He received a diagnosis of bursitis, which resolved with treatment.

There is no one standard treatment for SIRVA. However, doctors may treat it as they would other shoulder injuries. Their guidance will depend on the type of injury a person has.

A doctor may recommend one or more of the following options:

  • Rest: SIRVA injuries commonly involve inflammation. If an individual rests their shoulder, then the muscles, ligaments, and tendons are better able to recover.
  • Hot and cold therapies: A person can use cold compresses to ease pain and reduce inflammation. They can also use heat for tension and stiffness.
  • Physical or occupational therapy: A doctor may recommend physical or occupational therapy to improve the shoulder’s range of motion and strength.
  • Pain relief medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, can reduce pain and inflammation. A doctor may also recommend topical pain relievers or stronger medications.
  • Steroid injections: A doctor can give corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation.
  • Surgery: In severe cases, a doctor may consider surgery. Doctors may recommend procedures such as rotator cuff repair, bursectomy, or joint debridement.

Vaccine side effects, such as shoulder pain, usually resolve after a few days.

In most cases, symptoms such as swelling, discomfort, and fever indicate that the body is building immunity.

However, a person should contact a doctor if:

  • the redness or tenderness at the vaccination site worsens after 24 hours
  • the pain becomes worse over time
  • the side effects do not go away after 2–3 days

The outlook for a person with SIRVA varies.

Doctors can usually treat SIRVA, which will reduce pain and improve range of motion. However, the condition is uncomfortable, and treatment may take time.

In most cases, SIRVA pain emerges within 24 hours of receiving the vaccination.

Some research has shown that a small number of individuals have chronic symptoms 6 months or more after vaccination.

Individuals may experience shoulder pain following a COVID-19 vaccination. Some stiffness, pain, and swelling for several days after the vaccination is a normal reaction.

However, improper vaccination technique can cause SIRVA, which can damage the shoulder joint. A doctor can treat the condition using pain-relieving medication, physical therapy, and corticosteroid injections.