Woman sitting and grabbing her shin while man holds her ankle and leg

Sprain vs. Tear: Know the Difference

Are Sprains and Tears the Same Thing?

Many people use the terms sprain and tear interchangeably—though they are similar injuries, they are not the same. Read more to learn about each of these common sports injuries and how to identify them.

What is a Sprain?

A sprain is when a ligament is overstretched or torn due to falling, twisting of a joint, or when suffering an impact to the body. Ligaments are the fibrous connective tissue that attaches bone to bone; usually, ligaments holding joints together to provide stability.

Generally, sprains can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to heal, depending on the severity of the injury. Sprains can range from mild to severe:

  • Mild sprain: The affected ligament is stretched, however, the joint is still stable.
  • Moderate sprain: The ligament has been partially torn but has not completely separated from the bone. This causes the joint to be unstable.
  • Severe sprain: The damaged ligament has been completely torn or separated from the bone.

Sprain Symptoms

Common symptoms of a sprain may include:

  • Hearing or feeling a ‘pop’ in your joint during injury
  • Localized pain
  • Inflammation and swelling
  • Bruising
  • Limited range of motion

What is a Tear?

Tears occur when fibrous tissue of a ligament, tendon, or muscle is ripped. Tears can be a result of the same movements that cause a sprain, however, a tear is a more serious injury.

While minor tears can take several weeks to heal, severe tendon and muscle tears may take several months. While rest and rehabilitation can be sufficient for minor tears, some tears can require surgery.

Tear Symptoms

Typical symptoms of a tear may include:

  • Sudden, severe pain
  • A “pop” sound during the time of the injury
  • The feeling of a loose joint
  • Inability to bear weight on the affected area
  • Immediate bruising
  • Immobility of the affected joint
  • Visual deformity

Orthopedic Care in Northern California

At Muir Orthopaedic Specialists, our team of experienced physicians believes good medical care is a result of mutual understanding, respect, and trust. To learn more about our orthopedic services or schedule an appointment, visit our patient portal, or give us a call at 925-302-2088.

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