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You probably have seen your favorite MMA fighter with a gnarly-looking ear right? Most people who participate in martial arts, whether boxing, MMA, judo, or BJJ, may get cauliflower ear. This is a common injury in BJJ. Let’s dive into what cauliflower ear is and how to prevent it!
BJJ Injury: What Is Cauliflower Ear?
Cauliflower ear is a deformity of the outer ear that may occur after injury to the ear.
Cauliflower ear may occur when blood that collects in the outer ear after an injury isn’t drained properly or becomes infected. Common causes include injuries from sports, such as wrestling, boxing, or mixed martial arts. Truthfully, it’s not as gross as it sounds (or looks). All that our ear is made of is cartilage so when that cartilage gets damaged, blood flows to it making it look a little more puffy or sensitive to touch.
Some people may get turned off when they initially see it but if you get it in the martial arts world, it is a badge of honor.
How Do We Get Cauliflower Ear?
You earn cauliflower ear by putting time on the mats (and by not wearing headgear). The ear deformity is one of the most common BJJ injuries that almost all grapplers at high levels experience. Your instructor probably has it and all the people in the MMA circuit have it.
Injuries are bound to happen when you are rolling around and getting violent with people on the mats. This is just one of those things. You can get cauliflower ear in BJJ by the Gi rubbing against your ear too hard or by someone accidentally hitting your head/ear area. You will know when you are starting to get it. Your ears will be sore for days on end and they may be pretty sensitive to touch. When people continue to touch or damage the ear while in this stage the deformity can worsen so be careful (as much as you can be).
Repeated hits to the ear in contact sports like wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or boxing cause athletes to develop cauliflower ear. After getting a hematoma on the ear due to trauma to the ear the ear will have a permanent deformity. Some cases of cauliflower ear are worse than others but after the swelling and blood has gone away from the auricular hematoma the ear’s natural shape will be gone and you will be left with the deformity.
If you want to prevent this from happening the best way to do this is to wear protective head gear. It is not necessary to have but when the soreness does come around it may get pretty uncomfortable to train. We consider protective head gear as an essential item if you train in any kind of grappling sport.
Common ways to get auricular hematomas are in a wrestling match or a competitive martial arts tournament and possibly in training.
Ways To Prevent Cauliflower ear
You can prevent cauliflower ear by not training martial arts entirely or wearing headgear while training. Headgear can be uncomfortable to wear at times but if you do not want your ear to look mangled or avoid this common BJJ injury, it will have to be the sacrifice you make.
Here is a quick list of some ways to prevent Cauliflower Ear:
- Don’t train (Why are you here)
- Wear headgear
- When you get sore ears ice them
- Take a break if your ears start to get sore
- Use EarSplintz
- (Bonus) If you get the deformity, drain it, and use magnets (Or EarSplintz)
Treating Cauliflower Ear
The treatment for cauliflower ear is pretty simple. When you start to notice your ear getting sore or tender to touch you have a couple of options. The options are to relax on the amount of time you train, get headgear and start to wear it, or do nothing. If you do nothing your ear will eventually swell if it keeps getting hit (the likelihood of this happening is high).
Some people may not want to walk around with a mangled ear some may see it as a trophy. The choice is yours on what you want to do.
We do not believe having cauliflower ear is a big deal. It does not affect anything on how the body functions. It may look funky but we would argue that having this ear deformity is a badge of honor. When you see someone out and they have cauliflower ear you know they are a warrior. If you see someone on the street and they have this do not pick a fight with them, you will most likely be fighting someone who is trained!
HOW TO PROPERLY DRAIN CAULIFLOWER EAR
Properly draining the most common ear injury in grappling sports (known as cauliflower ear) is done typically in two ways. The first way is through a medical professional who is certified to drain the blood for the auricular hematoma. You would think this is the best route in most cases but we have heard that some medical professionals have never drained it before making the experience less desirable then it already is. Most people who get Cauliflower ear go for the second option and that is finding a wrestling coach or someone in their circle who has drained the ear injury before.
Typically through experience, coaches will take on treating wrestler’s ear. Blood stored in cauliflower ear needs to drained using a clean syringe and you must make sure the area is clean so no infection occurs.
WHO DOES CAULIFLOWER EAR AFFECT?
Typically combat sports athletes are the most affected by cauliflower ear. Again, we will state this in the article a million times, this injury is not life-threatening or really even that serious. It can only get pretty serious with repeated direct trauma to the ear cartilage, leading to severe swelling and medical attention. The only time you may see this happen is at the highest levels of MMA matches. This type of damage can lead to hearing loss and may need surgical correction.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF CAULIFLOWER EAR?
The symptoms of cauliflower ear include the following:
- Swelling of the ear
- Blood accumulation on the ear cartlidge
- Redness of the ear
- Soreness and sensitivity of the ear
IS BJJ WORTH THE INJURY RISK?
This depends on the individual in all honesty. We like to look at the positives before we look at the negatives to even begin with. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a mental and physical martial art that allows those that take on the practice seriously to completely change their life in a positive way. It is a great way to meet new people, get into the best shape of your life, overcome your mental hurdles, and learn new ways to problem-solve in real-time.
Are there risk factors that you have to be aware of? Absolutely.
But you could even say the same exact thing about Football or other contact sports in general.
BJJ INJURY: HOW PAINFUL IS CAULIFLOWER EAR?
Well, it is definitely not a pleasant feeling we can tell you that. We have a bit of cauliflower ear on our right ear and when we first got the hematoma it was uncomfortable to even lay on that ear on a soft pillow. We experienced all of the symptoms listed above but did not go the route of draining the blood from the ear because we did not have that much accumulation, to begin with.
The part that was probably the most painful was when we would think our ear’s cartilage was completely healed and would train without protective head gear and get a direct hit to the sensitive area. The re-accumulation of blood to our already existing cauliflower ear was probably the most pain we had experienced in the process of getting the ear deformity.
Lesson learned there though. Now when we feel it coming back on we have no shame keeping the protective head gear on and tight.
Cauliflower ear is a very common thing to experience when you train BJJ, MMA, Boxing or various forms of contact sports like these. Cauliflower ear treatment is super simple and does not have to be over complicated. Preventing cauliflower ear is as simple as wearing protective gear when you feel the soreness coming on.