Is there a Difference between a Muscle Tear and a Muscle Strain?

Aug 25, 2022 | Guides

First, we need to start by highlighting that there are a lot of similarities between muscle strains and tears. A muscle strain and tear appears to be a homonym because they are two different types of injuries. It is worth noting that the treatment and diagnoses for a muscle strain or tear tend to be the same. So, if you think you have pulled a muscle? Or perhaps you need a massage to help with a tendon tear, then this is the blog that you need… so keep reading!


Is a Muscle Tear the Same as a Strain?

So, technically speaking, a muscle strain normally occurs because your tendon or muscle has been overworked or overstretched. On the other hand, a muscle tear usually happens because it tends to occur when a muscle or tendon has been overused it physically tears. This difference between a strain and a tear.

A strain means you have strained the muscle, or if you have overstretched a tendon or muscle. Whereas, if you have a muscle tear, then it means that you have overstretched or overworked a muscle or tendon. What’s more, there is a misconception between these two injury types, possibly because they share similar diagnoses routes.

So, really it’s quite understandable because the main difference is the severity and type of the tear. Although a muscle tear is different from a strain, an abundance of people will still confuse these injuries unless they have been diagnosed by a professional. Also, a muscle strain may be referred to as a muscle pull or a pulled tendon.

Perhaps, the reason people get confused about these injuries is that your GP might refer to the injury as a “pulled” or “pulled muscle”. Whereas a strain is a type of injury where a tendon or muscle has been overstretched – which leads to the most common term “torn muscle” or “pulled muscle.” Basically, these terms mean that the tissue has broken or torn from the tendon, which is attached to the muscle or bone.


What is a muscle strain?

Generally, a muscle strain, also known as a “pull”, is when a tendon or muscle has been overstretched.


So then, what is a muscle tear?

If a muscle or tendon, or sometimes both, has been overstretched that it physically tears apart. The muscle tears are the difference between a strain and a tear.

Now that we have highlighted the basics of the article, let’s investigate the differences, or should we say similarities, that these sporting injuries have in common. Another commonality that muscle tears and strains share is massage therapy as a treatment option. It doesn’t help that many people get strains, tears or even sprains mixed up. Terminology is key.

Please note that this article is purely to give you an insight into the different sporting and general injuries. Let’s face it, we can strain muscles, sometimes by standing up wrong. Wait? Is that not a tear? If we keep referring to the definition above, you have strain if the muscle remains intact.

Whereas, if you have reached the point where you need medical attention, then it is most probably a muscle tear. It is really hard to understand the difference until you have experienced a strain or a tear. Although the two injuries get muddled up a lot, the injury severity differs massively.


Symptoms: Muscle Strain vs a Muscle Tear

We’ve already highlighted that muscle tear and strain often get mixed up because they share some similarities. To reiterate, the primary difference is the severity of the sporting or muscle injury. So, first, let’s look at the symptoms of a strained muscle. According to the NHS, the symptoms are:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Tightness
  • Weakness
  • Pain
  • Bruising or Swelling
  • Cramping
  • Immobility

Generally, you will have to go to a GP or a physiotherapist to diagnose these injuries. You will find out if you have a sprain, strain or an actual tear once you have been examined properly. These sporting injuries are diagnosed using a grading system to identify the severity of the tear.


The Grading System

So, how do you identify if you have a strain or a tear? Well, once you have seen your sporting physiotherapist or GP, they should be able to tell you how much damage has occurred.

Grade/Level 1
Usually, this is classified as being a mild “strain” in the sense that it only affects a small amount of the muscle fibres. This injury still might be painful and tender. Still, generally, level one should not affect your mobility or ability to use the muscle.

Grade/Level 2
If you have a grade/level 2 strain, then it means you have torn over half of the muscle fibres. Normally, the pain is described as acute, but you may experience a slight decrease in strength. Swelling and bruising may also occur.

Grade/Level 3
So, this is where it becomes super painful. When you get to this “grade, ” your muscle has completely torn or ruptured. Sometimes, the afflicted area/muscle might have been torn into two or even more. Basically, this grade is when the muscle is separated from the tendon. You will likely experience a lot of pain from this injury. When people say the difference between a strain or tear, the answer is the level of pain and severity of the tear.


Final Word

Hopefully, this article has highlighted the differences and similarities of a muscle strain over a tear. Since these injuries are usually caused by sports, you need to find natural solutions like a sports massage to treat and manage your pain. Sometimes, it’s easier to go to an independent physiotherapist like Circle 8 Massage Leeds to understand the level of your strain or tear. Plus, they can also book you in for a highly beneficial and pain-relieving sports massage.

Recent posts

Does cupping remove toxins?

Cupping therapy, an ancient practice with roots in traditional Chinese medicine, has gained popularity in recent years for its purported ability to...

read more

Book online today

When you come for a massage at Circle8 we don’t just treat your issue and send you away, we find out exactly which movements and muscles are causing it, explain to you what’s actually happening, give you exercises in the gym and at home that you can do to help alleviate and eventually get rid of your issue.