It’s flu season, which means many of us are heading to our doctor, local urgent care or neighborhood pharmacy for a flu shot (And if you haven’t, there’s still time!).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone six months and older should get a flu shot every year in the fall. With your annual influenza vaccine, you can significantly lower your chances by 40% to 60% of contracting the flu (influenza) virus.
But are you one of the few who walks away from your shot feeling like you’ve been punched in the arm? Not everyone gets a sore arm, but it is common, and the reason actually may surprise you.
“Some individuals may develop swelling, a mild, low-grade fever and some moderate pain localized to where they received the flu vaccine,” said Devin Minior, MD, chief medical officer for Banner Urgent Care. “This is a natural response, and it means that your body's immune system is working to build up a defense against the flu virus.”
How to knock out flu shot pain
While soreness can be unpleasant, it’s nothing compared to the whole-body pain caused by the flu.
Here are four tips to relieve flu shot pain:
- Distract yourself. Take a few deep breaths to clear your mind and relax your body and look away to avoid tensing your muscles (Nope! Nothing to see here!). It may help to also chew some gum or suck on a breath mint.
- Use a pain reliever (with permission). If you are typically pretty sore after your shot, ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to take acetaminophen or ibuprofen before and/or after the shot.
- Keep moving. Growing up, has someone ever told you to “just walk it off” when you get hurt? While you shouldn’t just walk off any injury, there is some truth to this somewhat harsh rationale when it comes to the pain from your flu shot. Don’t baby your arm. It’s not an injury. Moving your arm around after the shot will help spread the vaccination away from the injection site and increase blood flow. You may want to consider doing some light exercise after as well.
- Cool it. Use a cool compress on the injection site to help reduce any swelling and pain. After a few days, you can try a warm compress to relax your muscle and increase blood flow.
Getting your annual flu shot can protect you, your loved ones and those around you from the flu and complications from it. A momentary discomfort is worth the thousands of lives who can be saved. It’s one of the easiest ways to contribute to community health.
Call your doctor if you experience side effects
Common side effects from receiving the flu shot include soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site, muscle aches and low-grade fevers, but there are some rare and serious side effects. If you are experiencing a life-threatening allergic reaction, such as wheezing, hives, weakness or dizziness, seek medical attention immediately.
Have more questions about the flu?
There are lots of rumors and myths out there about the flu shot. No, the flu shot won’t give you the flu, and it definitely won’t give you COVID-19. If you have additional questions about the flu or want to learn more about your risk, talk with your health care provider.
Arm yourself with the facts. Check out these quick reads on the flu and flu shots:
- Why Flu Shots Matter When You Have Heart Disease
- Yes, Cancer Patients Need the Flu Shot Too
- Do I Have a Cold or the Flu? How to Tell the Difference?