Procedural and Physical Interventions for Vaccine Injections: Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials and Quasi-Randomized Controlled Trials

Clin J Pain. 2015 Oct;31(10 Suppl):S20-37. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000264.


Background: This systematic review evaluated the effectiveness of physical and procedural interventions for reducing pain and related outcomes during vaccination.

Design/methods: Databases were searched using a broad search strategy to identify relevant randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials. Data were extracted according to procedure phase (preprocedure, acute, recovery, and combinations of these) and pooled using established methods.

Results: A total of 31 studies were included. Acute infant distress was diminished during intramuscular injection without aspiration (n=313): standardized mean difference (SMD) -0.82 (95% confidence interval [CI]: -1.18, -0.46). Injecting the most painful vaccine last during vaccinations reduced acute infant distress (n=196): SMD -0.69 (95% CI: -0.98, -0.4). Simultaneous injections reduced acute infant distress compared with sequential injections (n=172): SMD -0.56 (95% CI: -0.87, -0.25). There was no benefit of simultaneous injections in children. Less infant distress during the acute and recovery phases combined occurred with vastus lateralis (vs. deltoid) injections (n=185): SMD -0.70 (95% CI: -1.00, -0.41). Skin-to-skin contact in neonates (n=736) reduced acute distress: SMD -0.65 (95% CI: -1.05, -0.25). Holding infants reduced acute distress after removal of the data from 1 methodologically diverse study (n=107): SMD -1.25 (95% CI: -2.05, -0.46). Holding after vaccination (n=417) reduced infant distress during the acute and recovery phases combined: SMD -0.65 (95% CI: -1.08, -0.22). Self-reported fear was reduced for children positioned upright (n=107): SMD -0.39 (95% CI: -0.77, -0.01). Non-nutritive sucking (n=186) reduced acute distress in infants: SMD -1.88 (95% CI: -2.57, -1.18). Manual tactile stimulation did not reduce pain across the lifespan. An external vibrating device and cold reduced pain in children (n=145): SMD -1.23 (95% CI: -1.58, -0.87). There was no benefit of warming the vaccine in adults. Muscle tension was beneficial in selected indices of fainting in adolescents and adults.

Conclusions: Interventions with evidence of benefit in select populations include: no aspiration, injecting most painful vaccine last, simultaneous injections, vastus lateralis injection, positioning interventions, non-nutritive sucking, external vibrating device with cold, and muscle tension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / prevention & control
  • Pain Management*
  • Physical Examination
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Vaccination / adverse effects*