No evidence that vaccination harms the shoulder

Erin Donovan teaching class

No Evidence that Vaccination Harms the Shoulder

By Chelsea Brass

Given the importance of vaccines, especially in times of great threat to the public’s health, it is vital to assuage fears and concerns and counter them with research that can help people make safe, effective health decisions for themselves and their communities. 

One prevailing misconception is the idea that vaccines can injure the shoulder. This misconception is likely due to a very common logical fallacy: the post hoc ergo proctor hoc (“after this, therefore that”). For example, “My shoulder never hurt prior to vaccination. Now it’s painful every day. The vaccination must have injured my shoulder.”  

David Ring, MD, PhD, Associate Dean for Comprehensive Care and Professor of Surgery at the Dell Medical School, is enthusiastic about helping guide patients through complex concerns and decisions. Dr. Ring, along with colleagues Amanda Gonzalez, MD, Joost Kortlever, MD, and PhD candidate, and medical student Meredith Moore, address one of these complex concerns in the study Influenza Vaccination Is Not Associated with Increased Number of Visits for Shoulder Pain.

So, what do we know about the relationship between shoulder pain and vaccination? The rate of visits for shoulder pain three months before or after vaccination are both about 1% (1.1% [52 of 4801] before and 1% [40 of 3977] after).

These findings challenge the common automatic thought that a new pain is due to the last notable event. The human mind is prone to such misconceptions. This propensity to land on plausible, but inaccurate thoughts are referred to as cognitive bias. Shoulder pain is a relatively common reason people seem to care, even in college-age adults. As we get older most of us develop a tendon problem (rotator cuff tendinopathy) and pain is the rule rather than the exception.  Clinicians can help patients move from understanding the available evidence towards increased confidence in receiving vaccination in the shoulder region. Clear communication and a trusting relationship will help.

The Center for Health Communication’s Think Tank examines a variety of health communication queries just like this one. To learn more about the CHC Think Tank, a group that works to bridge research to practice within the clinical and education settings at Dell Medical School, visit https://moody.utexas.edu/centers/health-communication/chc-think-tank.