Case Reports

Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration: A Rare Reaction

Awareness of shoulder injury related to vaccine administration and a high index of suspicion are necessary to evaluate patients with shoulder concerns postvaccination.

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Localized reactions and transient pain at the site of vaccine administration are frequent and well-described occurrences that are typically short-lived and mild in nature. The most common findings at the injection site are soreness, erythema, and edema.1 Although less common, generalized shoulder dysfunction after vaccine administration also has been reported. Bodor and colleagues described a peri-articular inflammatory response that led to shoulder pain and weakness.2 A single case report by Kuether and colleagues described atraumatic osteonecrosis of the humeral head after H1N1 vaccine administration in the deltoid.3 In 2010, shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA) was described by Atanasoff and colleagues as the rapid onset of shoulder pain and dysfunction persisting as a complication of deltoid muscle vaccination in a case series of 13 patients.4 In our report, we present a case of an active-duty male eventually diagnosed with SIRVA after influenza vaccination and discuss factors that may prevent vaccine-related shoulder injuries.

Case Presentation

A 31-year-old active-duty male presented to the Allergy clinic for evaluation of persistent left shoulder pain and decreased range of motion (ROM) following influenza vaccination 4 months prior. He reported a history of chronic low back and right shoulder pain. Although the patient had a traumatic injury to his right shoulder, which was corrected with surgery, he had no surgeries on the left shoulder. He reported no prior pain or known trauma to his left shoulder. He had no personal or family history of atopy or vaccine reactions.

The patient weighed 91 kg and received an intramuscular (IM) quadrivalent influenza vaccine with a 25-gauge, 1-inch needle during a mass influenza immunization. He recalled that the site of vaccination was slightly more than 3 cm below the top of the shoulder in a region correlating to the left deltoid. The vaccine was administered while he was standing with his arm extended, adducted, and internally rotated. The patient experienced intense pain immediately after the vaccination and noted decreased ROM. Initially, he dismissed the pain and decreased ROM as routine but sought medical attention when there was no improvement after 3 weeks.

Six weeks after the onset of symptoms, a magnetic resonance image (MRI) revealed tendinopathy of the left distal subscapularis, infraspinatus, supraspinatus, and teres minor tendon. These findings were suggestive of a small partial thickness tear of the supraspinatus (Figure 1), possible calcific tendinopathy of the distal teres minor (Figure 2), and underlying humeral head edema (Figure 3). The patient was evaluated by Orthopedics and experienced no relief from ibuprofen, celecoxib, and a steroid/lidocaine intra-articular injection. Laboratory studies included an unremarkable complete blood count and erythrocyte sedimentation rate. He was diagnosed with SIRVA and continued in physical therapy with incomplete resolution of symptoms 6 months postvaccination.


According to a 2018 report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local reactions following immunizations are seen in up to 80% of administered vaccine doses.1 While most of these reactions are mild, transient, cutaneous reactions, rarely these also may persist and impact quality of life significantly. SIRVA is one such process that can lead to persistent musculoskeletal dysfunction. SIRVA presents as shoulder pain and limited ROM that occurs after the administration of an injectable vaccine. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine determined that evidence supported a causal relationship between vaccine administration and deltoid bursitis.5


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