Does the TikTok ‘Helicopter Arm’ Trend Really Work?

Does the TikTok ‘Helicopter Arm’ Trend Really Work?

05.24.21
Photo Courtesy of CDC via Unsplash
05.24.21

There’s a new TikTok trend where people swing their arms in a circle — also known as the “helicopter arm.” And though it might look like a dance at first, it’s really a hack. This trend was started as a method to relieve arm soreness after people receive their vaccines. But does it really work? 

Since I haven’t been able to get my vaccine yet, I couldn’t test it out for myself. So I asked Dr. Kristamarie Collman, a board certified family medicine physician based in Orlando, Florida. We also talked about how the vaccine affects menstruation as well as some tips on what to do when you get your vaccine.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Iris Santalucia: Do you think this trend is a legitimate way of relieving soreness from your arm after getting the vaccine? 

Dr. Kristamarie Collman: I have heard about the helicopter arm, or the windmill arm. I see that people are doing it, or a lot of younger people are doing it, after they get their COVID shot. Yeah, there’s some truth to this. Certainly moving or keeping your arm in action after you get the vaccine can help to decrease soreness. I think it helps if you do it shortly after [receiving the vaccine]. 

We know that some people, after they get their vaccine shot, the injection site is pretty sore. And that’s a common reaction. Some people may experience it and others may not. But if you do experience it, one of the ways to help decrease the soreness is to move your arm or to exercise your arm throughout the day. 

IS: Why do you get sore after the vaccine? 

KC: Well, one, you are injecting a foreign object — a needle — into your deltoid muscle. Two, it’s a sign that your body is starting to produce an immune response. And that’s what we want from this vaccine — for your body to produce an immune response. 

If you don’t experience arm soreness, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your body isn’t producing an appropriate immune response. But the soreness oftentimes is a sign. 

I think [the helicopter arm] could help with other vaccines as well. Another common one that we get in the arm would be the flu vaccine. And sometimes people will experience soreness after their flu vaccine. So if you’re doing any kind of movement in the arm that you receive an injection in, it could certainly help to decrease the soreness in that area. 

IS: Other than soreness in your vaccinated arm, what are some of the other side effects after getting the vaccine? 

KC: So after getting the vaccine, in addition to potentially experiencing soreness at the site of injection, people may experience some fatigue. They may experience fevers, chills, just feeling a little bit down or sluggish. Really, the reactions can vary from person to person. Sometimes people may not feel anything at all. 

IS: What do you normally advise your patients to do after administering the vaccine? 

KC: Well, before they schedule the vaccine, I try to recommend that they do it on a day that they reserve a little bit of time for it. So maybe they try to take off from work or if they can’t take off, they do it on a day where it’s not busy for them because everyone can respond so differently to the vaccines. 

After they receive the vaccine, I usually will just recommend that they kind of just chill, and try to take it easy for the rest of the day — just see how their body responds. If they feel tired, then they should rest. If they begin to experience fevers or just any body aches, then try and treat that with over-the-counter acetaminophen to make sure they stay hydrated. 

Another question sometimes that people ask is, “Should I get the shot in my dominant arm or non-dominant arm?” And people may be more inclined to get it in their non-dominant arm because they do most of the things with that arm. 

But for me, I usually will tell people to get it in your dominant arms because then you know that you’re going to be moving that arm around. You’ll have some exercise in that arm and it will help to decrease the potential soreness after your injection. 

IS: There’s been some misinformation about how the vaccine impacts menstruators. Does the vaccine have an effect on people’s periods in any way? 

KC: There have been some conversations around the vaccine and its impact on menstruation. And as far as we know right now, there hasn’t been an association between the two. But we’re still learning so much about the vaccine and its impact on our bodies. 

There could be a potential inflammatory response from the vaccine that impacts our uterine lining. So that could mean a slightly heavier period. It could potentially mean you may see your menses earlier as well. Those are some of the symptoms I’ve heard people say that they’ve experienced after getting the shot. 

Additionally, it’s important to remember that other factors could also play a role in menstrual changes such as stress, lack of sleep, diet and exercise. So people should keep this in mind. However, we still need more information to explore this. And so as time goes on, I think we’ll begin to learn more. 

IS: Is there anything else that people should know or expect to happen when they’re getting their vaccines? 

KC: I certainly think they should keep in mind that any response that you experience from the vaccine is usually temporary and short-lived. They should certainly just take note of what they experience and how they feel and make sure that they communicate that with their health care teams. 

I do encourage everyone to make sure that they’re getting their vaccines — the vaccines have certainly been shown to be safe and very effective, and it’s certainly one of the ways that we will make our way out of the pandemic.

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