Despite being an all-around gift (thank you science!), the COVID-19 vaccine can cause a handful of (totally normal) side effects, including fever, chills, fatigue, and a sore arm with some redness and swelling. And while the latter might seem a bit more benign than the other post-dose difficulties, an achy arm that lasts for a couple of days can still be a b*tch — which is exactly why so many people have taken to the 'Tok to share their solution for that post-shot soreness.
Their big trick? Swinging your arm around in circles. Yes, you read that right: The latest trend to take off on the social media platform is quite literally moving your arm around and around as if you're a human windmill. And, TBH, it looks as comical as it sounds. Just take it from TikTok user @reaganelissee who captioned her post-vaccine-arm-swinging clip, "i was laughing so hard making this."
"This shit better work so my arm doesn't hurt tomorrow," TikTok user @chellfst wrote alongside a video in which she first shows off the spot where she was vaccinated and then speedily moves her arm around. (Related: Can You Work Out After Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine?)
Over on Instagram, journalist Rana Good shared the same sore arm-trick. "I saw this on Tiktok (thanks @katietoler) and thought it was worth trying - turns out the windmill WORKS," she wrote. "The first shot I could barely use my arm for 1-2 days, this time it hurt about 75% less. Do this after you get your shot within 15 minutes. Repeat a few times that day." Good also warned against doing this "when your arm is already sore." Although she didn't explain why, it's safe to assume that rapidly circling your already-hurting arm simply will not feel nice.
So it worked for Good, but what about everyone else? The reviews are in, folks — and they're scattered. Many people replied to @chellyfst's TikTok saying they tried the hack with no results. "I did this after mine and I woke up today & still hurts :(," wrote one follower. Another added, "I did that and it still hurts the next day."
But others, including TikTok user @chellyfst herself, said the move was helpful: "it worked💪🏻😤 I only feel very slight soreness but I'm able to move my arms just fine," she responded to a comment on her post.
"I did it all yesterday and I have no pain😌," said one person.
"I DID THAT AND WENT TO WORK AND MY ARM WAS BARLEY [sic] SORE," shared another. "I JUST FELT A LITTLE DIZZY."
And that's not too shocking to hear given how intense this TikTok trick looks. But the questions still stand: Is this trend legit? And should you start swinging as you walk out of your vaccination center, too?
For the record, there's no scientific literature that specifically talks about swinging your arm in a fast windmill movement after you've been vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does recommend moving your arm after you've been vaccinated, but the organization doesn't elaborate any further. (Related: Can the COVID Vaccine Affect Your Period? Some Women Say It's Changed Theirs)
Meanwhile, doctors are just learning of this trending trick. "Certainly, moving your arm like this after you're vaccinated won't hurt you in any way," says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "There are no studies about this movement, but maybe people have discovered something that we in medicine don't know about yet."
"There's no evidence that this has an impact on soreness," says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "[But] "there's no harm in it." And William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, agrees: "There are no studies about this movement, but maybe people have discovered something that we in medicine don't know about yet."
"It certainly won't hurt, unless you overdo it," adds Jamie Alan, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology at Michigan State University. Meaning, you don't want to be too aggressive with whipping your arm around or you could pull a muscle or something similar. Still, she says, there's nothing about this circular movement in particular that will necessarily help with post-vaccine soreness — and people on social media haven't offered up an explanation either. "I don't think a windmill movement is the only movement you can do, but moving and stretching the arm is generally a good thing," she says.
Here's why: The COVID-19 vaccine is an intramuscular shot, which means it's actually injected into the muscle in your arm (in this case, the deltoid muscle). Why that spot exactly? Intramuscular vaccines "get more blood flow" to help mobilize the antigen, i.e. substance in the vaccine that produces an immune response in your body, explains Alan. "Basically, the antigen needs to get to the blood so that the immune cells can respond," she says.
By stretching and moving your arm, "you are promoting blood flow and that will help with repair" the muscle, which is slightly torn from the needle, according to Alan. It can also help distribute the vaccine a little more so that more muscle cells "see" the vaccine and "then more cells can start making that antigen to build immunity," she adds. (Related: How Effective Is the COVID-19 Vaccine?)
TL;DR — Swinging your arm in a windmill fashion à la the folks on TikTok can potentially help ease soreness and even encourage an immune response (which is the whole point of the vaccine). But the same can be said for any type of arm movement. So you could technically reap the same perks without getting, say, dizzy as was the case for one TikTok user. Also helpful, according to the CDC? Applying a cool, wet washcloth to the vaccination site to help alleviate any pain and reduce inflammation.
Sure, a sore arm after vaccination can be uncomfortable but it should only last a day or two before easing up, notes Alan, who also recommends looking at the positive: "It is a sign that your body is hard at work mounting an immune response." And that's essential for kicking COVID-19 to the curb.