Muscle Strain Vs. Tear: Do You Need an MRI?

July 29, 2022 – 3 min read

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A muscle strain is a common injury that happens when you overexert a muscle, causing muscle fibers to stretch or tear. A muscle strain versus a tear is a matter of degree. Anyone can strain a muscle, but it is especially common for people who play sports. Not warming up properly before activity can lead to this type of injury. To determine how severe the injury is your doctor will often order an MRI on the affected area to make an accurate diagnosis and develop a course of treatment.

What are the symptoms of muscle strain vs. tear?

Does a strain feel different from a tear? Generally, yes, though it’s a matter of degree. A muscle strain can occur any time you overstretch a muscle, whether from lifting something heavy or playing sports. Contact sports such as football, as well as those that require players to make quick starts and turns, such as basketball, tennis or skiing, may cause strains and tears.

Doctors categorize muscle strains into three grades, depending on the extent of the damage:

  • Grade I: A mild strain in which a few muscle fibers are stretched or slightly torn. The injured area feels tender and sore, but muscle strength is not affected.
  • Grade II: A moderate strain with more extensive damage to fibers. Along with being painful and tender, the area may swell and bruise, and you may notice a lack of strength in the muscle.
  • Grade III: A severe strain that causes the muscle to tear all the way through. You might notice a “pop” when the muscle breaks from the tendon or separates into two pieces. Symptoms include pain, swelling, tenderness, discoloration of the skin and total loss of function in the muscle. You may also notice a dent under the skin.

After getting an order from your doctor for an MRI on your muscle, you can choose where to get your muscle tear imaging done. Touchstone Medical Imaging offers an affordable, convenient option for outpatient imaging studies to help diagnose athletic injuries. Make an appointment at the Touchstone Medical Imaging center most convenient for you.

When to ask for help for a muscle injury

Some low-grade muscle strains heal on their own, while some require treatment from a doctor. However, you should always call your doctor if you experience:

  • A pop when the injury happens
  • Mild symptoms that don’t improve after 48 hours
  • Severe pain and swelling
  • Weakness or difficulty moving the muscle

Recovery time for muscle strains and tears depends on the grade and area of the injury. Mild strains usually heal completely within a few weeks, while more severe strains can take several months.

MRI for muscle and connective tissue damage

In some cases, doctors can make a diagnosis based on a physical exam and symptoms. However, if the injury is more severe, an MRI can reveal whether you have a torn ligament or muscle.

Touchstone Medical Imaging offers cost-effective MRI imaging services performed by board-certified radiologists. Our various kinds of MRI scanners can accommodate many different needs. After receiving an order for an MRI from your doctor, get started by finding the Touchstone Medical Imaging center nearest you.