I am reading some MRI report and see "Focal tear of the [ligament name]". what does the adjective add? In other words, what is the difference between "Focal tear of the [ligament name]" and "Tear of the [ligament name]"?

https://www.google.com/search?q=focal+meaning&oq=focal+mean defines focal as:

(of a disease or medical condition) occurring in one particular site in the body.

Does that mean that a focal tear of the [ligament name] is smaller in length than a "Tear of the [ligament name]"?

1 Answer 1


Basically, yes, it definitely means it's a single point of injury. But if the report didn't specify any modifiers like "focal" or "diffuse" I wouldn't assume it says anything about length of the tear at all. I think it's only safe to say that using the word "focal" means it's a single, localized area. If it were more extensive, the report would have said "diffuse" or similar language.

According to this site, which I believe to be credible and reliable, pathologists use the word "focal" like this:

What does focal mean?

Focal is a word pathologists use to describe something seen in only a small part of the tissue sample examined. Focal changes can be seen when the tissue is examined by eye (this is called the gross examination) or under the microscope.

The opposite of focal is diffuse. Pathologists use the word diffuse to describe something seen throughout the tissue sample examined. Like focal, diffuse changes can be seen when the tissue is examined by eye or under the microscope.


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