What Causes Tetanus Shot Pain?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 13 March 2019
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Tetanus shot pain is caused by inflammation at the injection site, a known risk with any immunization that can be particularly severe with tetanus vaccines. Very strong reactions are extremely rare, and the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, can be fatal, even in advanced medical facilities, and the vaccination will prevent this infection. Patients with worries about pain can take some measures to prevent it.

One issue with tetanus shot pain is that this vaccine is rarely given in isolation, and being hit with multiple vaccines at once can be more stressful for the body. Typically, people receive it in a combination vaccine delivered into the muscle of the arm. The introduction of foreign material into the muscle triggers inflammation, which can cause swelling, tenderness, and heat at the site. The immune system responds to the foreign bodies by building antibodies, the whole reason for the vaccination, but the patient may feel feverish and sore for several days while the body processes the vaccine.


The tetanus toxoid used in a tetanus vaccine is not the same as the toxoid produced by Clostridium tetani. The bacteria responsible for tetanus infections produce an extremely potent neurotoxin that triggers pain and muscle spasms. In vaccines, care providers introduce a form of the toxoid that has been treated to ensure that it cannot trigger these reactions in patients. Quality control ensures that all batches of the toxoid are inactive; the body can form antibodies that will work against the real thing, but the patient shouldn't experience a reaction similar to tetanus, contrary to popular myths about tetanus vaccines.

One documented issue with tetanus shot pain is that reactions tend to be worse with repeat vaccinations. A young child may experience some fussiness at the time of vaccination, but should recover well. When it is repeated later in life, the patient may experience a more severe reaction, though not always. For adults who may have had multiple tetanus vaccines, tetanus shot pain can be more intense, especially in the case of a booster given in response to an injury, where the patient may have had a recent immunization and already has some robust antibodies. In this case, the immune system does exactly what it is supposed to do by attacking the toxoid, but this causes inflammation and pain for the patient.

Patients with worries about tetanus shot pain can take pain relievers to reduce inflammation and swelling. They may also find it helpful to ice the location of the vaccination. It can also be helpful to work with an experienced care provider, as vaccination technique can have an impact on how painful the procedure is. A skilled nurse or doctor can minimize the risk of hematoma and other complications that might cause tetanus shot pain.


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