What a pain in the arm
May 28, 2021 12:48 PM   Subscribe

My arm still hurts 7 weeks after my second dose. The doctor tried a steroid, which didn't do much. What else can I try?

First, a disclaimer: I know this is just not a thing that seems to have happened to other people, and honestly I've been putting off asking because I don't want to put this out there and have people point at it like this is a common issue when it's not. I would definitely have chosen to get vaccinated even if I had known this would happen. I feel so lucky to have been vaccinated, and ungrateful for even complaining. But also, it is affecting my quality of life so I needed to ask if there's something I could be doing to help it get better.

Back on April 6, I received the second dose of the pfizer vaccine. I'm needle anxious, so I warned the woman who was giving the shot that I'd look away. For my first shot, I'd been asked if I wanted a countdown or if I'd prefer to be surprised, and I'd picked the countdown. This time, the woman just said she'd surprise me and I didn't think to suggest otherwise. When the shot came, it hurt a lot more than usual, and my whole arm tensed up.

After that, I had the expected two days of arm pain and general fever/body aches, but it seemed to get better in days 3-4. A couple of days after that though, my arm started feeling sore again and just has never stopped. I've tried 1-2 ibuprofen but it doesn't seem to help. I gave it 3 weeks, and then called our local medical advice line to ask if I should try icing it or heat or what, and was told I should definitely see my doctor. Well, my doctor was very sympathetic, but also didn't know what could be done besides trying 5 days of a steroid. The steroid did a great job of keeping me from sleeping, but the pain only went down a tiny bit on days 4 and 5 and then came back full force once I stopped. I'm not opposed to going back to my general practitioner, but he didn't seem to have any more an idea that I did about what could be done to help.

The spot that hurts is down at the midpoint of my arm, not at my shoulder, so I do not think that it is SIRVA (and my doctor confirmed that it does not appear to be anything to do with my actual shoulder). It feels almost like there's a specific spot that has a small lump that is causing the muscle running from the outside of my arm up the front of my shoulder to hurt when used. When my arm is in a neutral position doesn't hurt. When I attempt to lift my arm (such as the kind of motion you'd make if you were imitating a chicken flapping it's wing) it hurts quite a bit, up the muscle and I think turning into referred pain up my neck and to the back of my head. It's maybe a 4-5 on the pain scale, so not unbearable, but apparently I move my arm like a chicken more than I realized. It does wake me up multiple times a night and, frankly, it's getting to be a real bummer.

What might my stupid arm's problem be? Are there things I should be trying at home? Could more steroid magically fix this? See my GP again and push for trying something else? Try for a referral to some other specialist? Thank you for any suggestions!
posted by past unusual to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Any chance of getting to see a physical therapist? I suspect this is a thing you're going to have to work through rather than any single fix that's going to solve it instantly. You'll have to go at it as an injury to recover from, I think.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:52 PM on May 28, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You may have biceps tendinitis. It's rare but not unheard of after a shoulder vaccination. Sometimes the needle is a tiny bit longer than need be and it can irritate a tendon in your shoulder. I'm a vaccine developer—so I've had a lot of shoulder jabs—and I developed this kind of tendinitis after a routine flu shot back in 2012. It takes longer for tendon tissue to heal relative to other, highly-perfused soft tissues. What helped me was physical therapy to work on my range of motion and a lot of cold packs and compression. And, after the fact, now I request "the short needle" any time I get a vaccine (your doctor's office won't think that's an odd request at all).

Hang in there.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:43 PM on May 28, 2021 [38 favorites]

I'd also suggest seeing a physical therapist. Your doctor probably doesn't really have training to diagnose this (I just went to PT for the first time recently and was amazed at how thorough the exam was). You could ask for a referral, if you need it.

At the very least, you could get a massage. But I think PT would help.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:21 PM on May 28, 2021

While you are waiting for your physical therapy appointment, you might try a plan of alternating OTC pain relievers to get a better level of pain relief, if your doctor oks it. Here is one way to do it.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:34 PM on May 28, 2021

The spot that hurts is down at the midpoint of my arm, not at my shoulder [...] It feels almost like there's a specific spot that has a small lump that is causing the muscle running from the outside of my arm up the front of my shoulder to hurt when used.

Maybe you could apply a topical analgesic that's worked well for you before? If you're not sensitive to salicylates, you could massage on Tiger Balm Active Muscle Rub.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:11 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Is there any redness or swelling around the area?
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:19 PM on May 28, 2021

I always feel a little goofy making this recommendation, as I don't particularly wish to believe in the magical powers of CBD...except that I have gotten amazing relief from multiple forms of pain and inflammation with this salve. It's not cheap, but if you follow them on their social media they post 10-15% coupons pretty regularly. (And at that price, I still own multiple tins so I've got it next to my bed and desk - and a little goes a long way, that tin will last a good long time.)

Do the physical therapy too, but this is an additional option if you want to try it.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:23 PM on May 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had kind of the opposite pattern of you, where my first Pfizer shot felt like it went in wrong somehow and I had intense shoulder pain for about three weeks. The second shot then I got in the other shoulder, and it reactivated the pain in the first shoulder. The good news is I am pretty much back to normal now so, at least in this one random person‘s anecdote on the Internet, Time will heal the wound.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 5:56 PM on May 28, 2021

nthing the advice to see a physical therapist. When I first started working with my PT, the exam was very thorough, and she picked up a lot of things that previous clinicians had missed about my posture, movements, etc. Also, myofascial release that my PT does helps short term (and I know it seems kind of woo and I was super skeptical but it really genuinely helped!). Sometimes it's just about getting out of the pain cycle long enough and then getting range of motion etc back.

Obviously, IANAD/IANYD and YMMV but if your PCP isn't getting anywhere, try asking for a referral to PT.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:44 PM on May 28, 2021

Best answer: I'm sorry you're going through this but really glad I saw it, because I've had arm pain too almost two months after my second Pfizer shot and couldn't find anything about injection site pain after the first few days. My situation sounds a little different from yours, and I don't have any answers, but I'll be reading through this and wishing you the best.
posted by jameaterblues at 8:38 PM on May 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

Agree with the group that PT would probably be the best, but if that's not an option for you at the moment, I would try self-massage with trigger point therapy. This book is a complete wonder and has helped a LOT for me and basically everyone I've recommended it to: The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook Your Self Treatment Guide For Pain Relief
posted by Jaclyn at 9:10 PM on May 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the advice and the wisdom! The context of what might be happening from late afternoon dreaming hotel is especially helpful. I'll call my doctor's office when it opens again to see about the physical therapy option - my back has been hurting for unrelated reasons, so it might just be all around a good idea.
posted by past unusual at 9:37 AM on May 31, 2021

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