Case Reports

56-year-old woman • worsening pain in left upper arm • influenza vaccination in the arm a few days prior to pain onset • Dx?

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► Worsening pain in left upper arm
► Pain worsens with movement—especially abduction
► Influenza vaccination in the arm a few days prior to pain onset




A 56-year-old woman presented with a 3-day complaint of worsening left upper arm pain. She denied having any specific initiating factors but reported receiving an influenza vaccination in the arm a few days prior to the onset of pain. The patient did not have any associated numbness or tingling in the arm. She reported that the pain was worse with movement—especially abduction. The patient reported taking an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-­inflammatory drug (NSAID) without much relief.

On physical examination, the patient had difficulty with active range of motion and had erythema, swelling, and tenderness to palpation along the subacromial space and the proximal deltoid. Further examination of the shoulder revealed a positive Neer Impingement Test and a positive Hawkins–Kennedy Test. (For more on these tests, visit “MSK Clinic: Evaluating shoulder pain using IPASS.”). The patient demonstrated full passive range of motion, but her pain was exacerbated with abduction.


In light of the soft-tissue findings and the absence of trauma, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), rather than an ­x-ray, of the upper extremity was ordered. ­Imaging revealed subacromial subdeltoid bursal inflammation (FIGURE).

MRI reveals subacromial subdeltoid bursal inflammation


Shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA) is the result of accidental injection of a vaccine into the tissue lying underneath the deltoid muscle or joint space, leading to a suspected immune-mediated inflammatory reaction.

A report from the National Vaccine Advisory Committee of the US ­Department of Health & Human Services showed an increase in the number of reported cases of SIRVA (59 reported cases in 2011-2014 and 202 cases reported in 2016).1 Additionally, in 2016 more than $29 million was awarded in compensation to patients with SIRVA.1,2 In a 2011 report, an Institute of Medicine committee found convincing evidence of a causal relationship between injection of vaccine, independent of the antigen involved, and deltoid bursitis, or frozen shoulder, characterized by shoulder pain and loss of motion.3

A review of 13 cases revealed that 50% of the patients reported pain immediately after the injection and 90% had developed pain within 24 hours.2 On physical exam, a limited range of motion and pain were the most common findings, while weakness and sensory changes were uncommon. In some cases, the pain lasted several years and 30% of the patients required surgery. Forty-six percent of the patients reported apprehension concerning the administration of the vaccine, specifically that the injection was administered “too high” into the deltoid.2

In the review of cases, routine x-rays of the shoulder did not provide beneficial diagnostic information; however, when an MRI was performed, it revealed fluid collections in the deep deltoid or overlying the rotator cuff tendons; bursitis; tendonitis; and rotator cuff tears.2

Continue to: Management of SIRVA

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