Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration, or “SIRVA,” is an increasingly common and well-recognized vaccine injury. Understanding more about this injury and how it can occur can help minimize your risk.
When an intramuscular vaccination is administered, it is commonly injected into the upper arm. An improperly placed injection can injure the bursa of the shoulder or surrounding area, causing inflammation, pain, weakness and limited range of motion. SIRVA can include various conditions, including bursitis, tendonitis, adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder, and impingement syndrome, among others. Treatment for SIRVA may include orthopedic care, physical therapy, steroid injections, anti-inflammatory medications, diagnostic imaging and surgery. If you believe you have suffered SIRVA, please consult with your medical doctor to determine the best course of treatment.
There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of SIRVA.
Intramuscular vaccinations should be injected into the deltoid muscle of the arm, not into the shoulder joint. Vaccines that are administered too high, too low, or too far to one side can cause damage. To help the doctor or pharmacist locate a proper injection site, aim to expose the shoulder completely. Do not pull your shirt down from the neck. Instead, roll your sleeve up as far as it will go. You may consider wearing a sleeveless shirt when getting vaccinated.
Also, when possible, avoid being injected by a person who is standing while you are sitting down, as the height difference can lead to an improperly administered vaccination. A rule of thumb is to inject the vaccine 2 to 3 finger-widths below the shoulder joint or acromion.
The length of the needle is also important. A needle that is too long can hit a bone or nerve, and one that is too short can result in the contents of the vaccine being administered into subcutaneous tissue rather than into the muscle. With some pharmacies now offering curbside or drive-thru vaccinations, being aware of these simple practices will ensure that your next vaccination is as safe as possible.