When I was lucky enough to secure a COVID-19 vaccine appointment in New York City this April, I went into full preparation mode: I looked up what I should wear, what documents I needed to bring with me, and of course, what side effects I was going to endure after I received my jab. In my scramble to ready myself for the vaccine, I came across a TikTok video that claimed to offer a solution to the achy arm many people reported developing after their first shot: swinging your arm around in circles. Although the person in the video is windmilling their arm so dramatically it almost seems like a joke, it had me intrigued. Could this method really work?
Apparently, there is some science behind it. Abisola Olulade, MD, a San Diego-based physician, tells Refinery29 that moving the injected arm does help ease soreness. "When you get a vaccine your immune system creates a reaction in your body, and it causes inflammation at the site of the vaccination," Dr. Olulade explains. "That is what leads to the soreness and the pain." She says that moving your arm around allows blood to flow to that area, which encourages those inflammatory molecules to move away from the injection site. "It helps to prevent the soreness from being concentrated in that one area," she explains.
Notably, Dr. Olulade warns against the Michael Phelp-style swing-around the TikToker implemented. She says that aggressive a movement could cause hypertension if done repeatedly throughout the day. And you might smack your arm against something, which would make your arm more sore, not less.
Here's where my experiment fell off track: Dr. Olulade says the best way to prevent soreness is to start moving your arm around right after the 15-minute allergic reaction waiting period. Unfortunately, I received that info a little too late, and I didn't begin shaking my arm until the day after I got my shot. I woke up with an uncomfortably sore feeling in my left shoulder, right where I'd gotten jabbed. Thinking the TikTok trick could help lessen the pain in the moment, I gave it a try. Keeping my elbow bent so I didn't hit anything around me, I moved my arm small circles while shaking it. And it worked! My arm felt less stiff and achy right away. I continued to shake my injected arm around throughout the day whenever it bothered me, and it helped the pain subside every time.
Moving your arm can help alleviate pain for any kind of vaccination — in fact, I wish I knew this piece of info after I received my flu shot, which was particularly painful.
"Slow movement will help with it, and doing that for the next several hours, as well as icing, is also beneficial," Dr. Olulade says. You can also take Tylenol or ibuprofen to decrease the inflammation that's making you feel sore. And the side effect won't last forever. "[The pain] goes away for most people in about a day or two," Dr. Olulade says. (If it doesn't, or if it gets worse over time instead of better, call your doctor.)
Of course, it's always possible that what I experienced was nothing more than the placebo effect. Regardless, I'll take it — some of my friends were complaining about some pretty severe-sounding arm pain, which I skipped entirely. So if you're still awaiting one of your vaccination shots, put this tip in your back pocket. Just remember: Aim for more of an Arrested Development chicken dance sort of arm movement, versus a full Michael Phelps swing.