Doing This Makes the Most Common Vaccine Side Effect Worse, Experts Warn

Eighty-four percent of people experience this vaccine side effect, and doing this one thing makes it worse.

It's no secret that some people who get the COVID vaccine experience less-than-pleasant side effects afterward. The list runs the gamut from fatigue to fever and beyond, with the most common among them—impacting 84 percent of recipients—being localized pain or swelling at the injection site. However, what many people don't realize is that this particular unpleasantness is only partly the vaccine's fault. Experts say that, in trying to make it better, many of us do something that actually prolongs the pain: restricting movement in the arm. Read on for more on this common mistake, and for an essential vaccine update, Don't Do This Until a Month After Your COVID Vaccine, Experts Warn.

If your arm is feeling sore after getting a shot, it's only natural to want to keep it still to avoid further agitation. But according to Allison Agwu, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics who specializes in infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins Medicine, we should be doing the exact opposite: moving the arm frequently, and using it as normal.

Agwu told TODAY that when you get the COVID shot—or any other vaccine—you should "try to move your arm," adding that "staying still will just increase muscle soreness." For this reason, she typically recommends that patients receive shots in their dominant arm, which is more likely to be used for everyday tasks shortly following vaccination. By restricting your movement, the vaccine is more likely to stay concentrated in one spot for longer, contributing to your post-shot discomfort.

Thankfully, there is something you can do about that unpleasant ache. In addition to their recommendation to "use or exercise the arm," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests applying a "clean, cool, wet washcloth" to soothe the injection site.  This can numb the area and reduce swelling, if you have any. If the pain feels deeper within the muscle, or if the pain causes a feeling of tightness, a warm compress may also help those muscles to relax, experts say. If you're looking for more ways to offset the side effects of the COVID vaccine, read on for tips that'll have you feeling your best. And for more on the vaccine, Dr. Fauci Just Confirmed You Can Do This After Getting Vaccinated.

Have aspirin or acetaminophen on hand.

Pills of aspirin and advil on white background
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Another simple way to combat that ache in your arm is to reach for an aspirin or acetaminophen. Experts have suggested that you abstain from taking over-the-counter painkillers prior to the jab, but afterward is fair game if you've spoken with your doctor first.

If you're experiencing any fever or headache after your vaccination, this should also help to alleviate those symptoms. And for more vaccine news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Clear your schedule if you can.

Calendar circled for COVID vaccine

Fatigue is a common side effect after the vaccine—and one that's far more common after the second dose—so if you have the flexibility, it's worth scheduling your jab around a day off.

Infectious disease epidemiologist Saskia Popescu, PhD, recently tweeted about her own vaccine side effects, describing them succinctly as "not fun." Would she do it again, she asked herself rhetorically? "Of course," she answered. But through her own experience, she recognized the physical demands the vaccine puts on some individuals. "We need to ensure folks have the ability to take time off post-shot," Popescu concluded. And for more expert advice on the vaccine, Dr. Fauci Says Don't Do This After Your First COVID Shot.

Get a good night's sleep.

Cropped shot of a young man sleeping in his bed

Getting a good night's sleep before the COVID vaccine will help you offset later fatigue or discomfort, says Kannan Ramar, MBBS, MD, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. He adds that it may even help boost your immune response to the vaccine itself.

While researchers have yet to conduct a formal study on the connection between sleep and the COVID vaccine specifically, "we have data to support that good sleep—both from a quantity and quality perspective—builds and enhances the immune system, both innate and acquired. I think one can easily extrapolate it to the COVID-19 vaccinations as well," Ramar says.

Stay hydrated.

Shot of a couple drinking glasses of water together at home

Experts say that dehydration can greatly exacerbate your vaccination side effects, including headache, fatigue, fever, and muscle pain. Beginning the day prior to your vaccine, be sure to drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol, which could lead to a triple-whammy of dehydration, hangover, and vaccine side effects. And for more vaccine tips, find out why The CDC Says Don't Do This Within 2 Weeks of Your COVID Vaccine.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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