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Short sleeves help avoid potentially painful flu shot, pharmacists say

CBC News with Kelly Grindrod 04 November 2018

If you’re planning to get your flu shot soon, make sure you’re dressed for it.

Wearing a short sleeve or sleeveless shirt can help prevent a debilitating condition called shoulder injury related to vaccine administration, or SIRVA.

It occurs when the needle is inserted too high in the arm and the vaccine is injected into the connective tissue surrounding the shoulder joint, instead of the deltoid muscle.

“By injecting the vaccine into that spot, it causes this inflammation or this reaction that causes this injury,” Kelly Grindrod, pharmacy professor at the University of Waterloo explained.

While it’s normal to experience some tenderness directly after a flu shot, Grindrod said SIRVA results in pain that can last for weeks or months.

“The day or two after you get your flu shot, you might start developing a bit of discomfort, a bit of pain in the shoulder, and it might be a bit hard to use the shoulder. And the key with SIRVA, though, is it doesn’t get better.”

Grindrod said SIRVA can be avoided by wearing a shirt with sleeves that are easy to move, so the right location on the arm is easily exposed.

If you do experience persistent pain after a flu shot, she recommends going to a doctor. SIRVA can be treated with corticosteroid injections or physiotherapy.

Grindrod also has a tip for people with children or adults who aren’t a fan of needles — lidocaine patches.

“It numbs the area where the needle goes in and you don’t actually feel it.”

The flu shot is available for free at pharmacies and clinics throughout the region.