How to Handle Body Pain After COVID-19 Vaccine

Common Side Effects of COVID-19 Vaccine

In total, there have been over 229M vaccines distributed and counting, which means that at the time of this posting, 28.9% of the population is fully vaccinated. As more and more individuals get the vaccine, more individuals are experiencing common and safe (but unpleasant) side effects. For many, these side effects are a small price to pay for the security and elevated safety that comes with the vaccine.

As far as vaccines go, side effects are a signal that your body is responding and the vaccine is working. According to Pfizer, about 3.8% of their clinical trial participants experienced fatigue as a side effect and 2% got a headache. Moderna reported that 9.7% of their patients felt fatigued and 4.5% got a headache. Some other side effects that those who have had the vaccine are reporting include:

  • Pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Muscle pain

The COVID-19 vaccine is an intramuscular injection. You might expect your arm to be sore at the site of the vaccine. This is usually due to the body’s immune response and inflammation in the muscle. The immune system uses several mechanisms to fight off infections. The system utilizes macrophages, B-lymphocytes, and T-lymphocytes as part of the white blood cells. Macrophages work to break down viruses, bacteria, and dead or dying cells. B-lymphocytes produce antibodies that attack pieces of the virus from the macrophages, and T-lymphocytes attack infected cells in the body. Soreness in the arm can last several days because the body is still reacting to the vaccine. To treat arm soreness, the CDC recommends applying a clean, cool, wet washcloth to the site of the injection. Warm compresses can help as well.

What you might not expect is to have muscle pain in other areas of the body post-vaccination, but this is often the case. Some patients have even reported feeling like they just did a high interval impact training session. If the body aches are accompanied by a fever, the CDC recommends drinking lots of fluid and dressing lightly. Just like with any form of recovery, it will also help to get lots of rest and relaxation to facilitate healing.

Post-Vaccination Body Pain: Explained

After your vaccine, the neutrophils or macrophages in your body are what create the signals that lead to body pain. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell, and most of the white blood cells that create the immune system’s response are neutrophils. Macrophages are specialized cells involved in the detection, phagocytosis, and destruction of bacteria. They can also bring antigens to T cells and initiate inflammation by releasing molecules called cytokines. These cytokines are what cause symptoms of fever, chills, fatigue, and acute muscle pain.

It is important to distinguish the key differences between inflammation and infection. Infections are related to bacteria, fungus, viruses, and they can sometimes lead to inflammation. Acute inflammation, on the other hand, is the body’s short-term process that occurs in response to tissue injury or detection of a potential threat, like what the body detects when given a vaccine. It is characterized by these five signals:

  • Pain

Pain related to acute inflammation is due to the release of chemicals that stimulate nerve endings.

  • Redness

As it relates to acute inflammation, redness is due to increased blood flow to the area.

  • Immobility

If the body pain reaches a certain level of severity, it can interfere with mobility in that body part. 

  • Swelling

Swelling occurs when fluid in the body accumulates.

  • Heat

Heat occurs alongside acute inflammation alongside redness due to increased blood flow.

How to Treat Acute Inflammation

In order to experience relief from any body pain you might be having from the vaccine, you must treat the pain in the same way you would treat acute inflammation. One of the simplest and most effective approaches is “R.I.C.E.” therapy, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. RICE therapy is a tried-and-true method that helps relieve pain and swelling as well as promote healing and flexibility. Because it is so simple, it is a great method to try at home when you are recovering from vaccine side effects. The specifics of the RICE method are as follows:

  • Rest

If you are experiencing body pain, it is important to rest the affected area as much as you can and as soon as you can. It is best to avoid exercise for 24 to 48 hours until the pain subsides. The goal of this step is to immobilize the area and give the body the opportunity to recover.

  • Ice

Ice is one of the best ways to reduce swelling. You can use a simple ice pack covered in a towel during this step. If you do not have one on hand, or your side effects are coming on unexpectedly, you can use a bag of frozen vegetables on the aching area for 20 minutes at a time. The coldness from the ice will reduce pain by numbing the affected area. It is not recommended to ice for longer than this because it can lead to tissue damage.

  • Compression

To decrease inflammation, we recommend wrapping the area in a way that is snug, while still allowing room for circulation. If you are experiencing numbness, tingling, elevated pain levels, coolness, or swelling, you may be wrapped too tight. The goal of compression is to keep inflammation under control.

  • Elevation

If you are experiencing body pain in a particular area, we recommend elevating the area above heart level. This will allow gravity to move fluids away from the area. This will reduce inflammation and the discomfort that can come with it.

Just Breathe: How to Use Your Breath to Facilitate Healing During Your Recovery

After you receive your COVID-19 vaccine, there is not much else to do except wait for your body to make its recovery. You might have limited tools around you, but one tool you always have is your breath. Practicing breathwork and meditation is a surefire way to help manage body pain you might be experiencing. This is the perfect way to rest and allow your body to recover while you reap the benefits of the vaccine.

Deep breathing is an ancient practice that helps to relax the body by reducing nearby muscle tension and pain. Deep breathing techniques work their magic by allowing your body to voluntarily regulate your ANS, which lowers heart rate, regulates blood pressure, and decreases the stress hormone cortisol. Deep breathing also enables more air to flow into the body and can help calm nerves, reduce stress, and alleviate anxiety. This can be extremely helpful when it comes to experiencing vaccine side effects, which are new to most patients.

As far as meditation, the practice can help your brain release endorphins, which are natural pain relievers. This enables the muscles and tissues around the joints to relax and helps your brain enter a calm state. In fact, a study conducted by Harvard Medical School found that those who practice mindfulness are able to reduce pain by 22% and reduce anticipatory anxiety by 29%. Some meditative, deep breathing techniques that can help patients manage body pain include:

  • Alternate nostril breathing

This breathing practice is a great way to lower stress. One study conducted by the Advanced Centre for Yoga Therapy Education and Research found that those who practice alternate-nostril breathing lowered their perceived stress levels. This form of breathing is also said to improve lung function and respiratory endurance, lower heart rate, and promote overall wellbeing.

To do this exercise, sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight. As the name suggests, you are going to close your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left side. Next, close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are closed and pause. Lastly, open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side, and repeat on each side for five to ten cycles.

  • Belly breathing

The American Institute of Stress has stated that belly breathing, or abdominal breathing, for 20 to 30 minutes each day will reduce anxiety and stress. Deep breathing works by increasing the supply of oxygen to the brain and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which creates a state of calmness. Belly breathing is as simple as it sounds, but it can have major benefits. To practice this technique, we recommend the following steps:

  1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
  2. Put one hand on your belly just below your rubs and the other hand on your chest.
  3. Breathe in through your nose and allow the belly to push the air out.
  4. Breathe out through pursed lips.
  5. Repeat three to ten times or as needed.
  • Box breathing

Box breathing, also called square breathing, is another simple technique that involves slow, deep breaths. Not only is it a great stress reliever, but it can improve concentration levels. This is the same type of breathing we practice when we exhale to the rhythm of a song, so if you are a music lover, you are probably familiar with this breathing technique without even realizing it. To practice box breathing, we recommend the following steps:

  1. Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose while slowly counting to four.
  2. Hold your breath inside while counting and try not to close the mouth or nose.
  3. Slowly exhale for four seconds.
  4. Repeat one to three times or for four minutes at a time.

When it comes to vaccine recovery and body pain, time, patience, rest, and breath are the name of the game. If you like what you learned here and are interested in learning more about body pain management, call ProFysio Physical Therapy at (732) 812-5200 or contact us online.

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