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Preventing Cauliflower Ear in BJJ

November 29, 2023
Prevent Cauliflower ear

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a sport involving technique, strategy, and physicality. Practitioners find themselves engrossed in the art of grappling. They work hard on their skills, conditioning, and mental and physical discipline. However, as much as BJJ can do for the mind and body, it also presents a potential hazard to an often-overlooked body part—the ears. Cauliflower ear is a condition that many BJJ enthusiasts develop. It has cosmetic implications for the ear and can also lead to long-term complications if left unaddressed.

As BJJ gets more popular, more children are starting to train in this martial art. While anyone training in jiu-jitsu can develop cauliflower rear, children are particularly at risk. This article will teach you how to protect your or your children’s ears against cauliflower ears. From understanding the ear’s anatomy to exploring the practical strategies and protective gear available, we delve into the essential knowledge that can shield your ears from the rigors of training.

What is cauliflower ear?

Cauliflower ear, also known as “wrestler’s ear” or “boxer’s ear,” is a common condition that can occur in various combat sports, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). It is a deformity of the outer ear caused by blunt trauma or repeated friction, leading to the formation of a blood clot or hematoma in the ear.

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In BJJ, cauliflower ear typically occurs when there is repeated trauma or friction to the ear. Ears are often impacted while grappling, which is a fundamental part of sparring and competing. The condition is more common in activities with close contact, and the ears are susceptible to being rubbed against the ground, a training partner’s body, or the mat.

The term “cauliflower ear” comes from how the ear looks after the injury. The outer ear’s cartilage becomes damaged, and without proper treatment, the cartilage can separate from the overlying skin, forming a pocket of blood and other fluids. The ear takes on a swollen, cauliflower-like appearance.

How long does it take to get cauliflower ear?

The timeframe for developing cauliflower ear varies from person to person. It depends on factors such as the intensity and frequency of training, individual susceptibility, and the use of preventive measures. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) or other combat sports, cauliflower ear typically develops over time due to repeated trauma or friction to the ears.

Some individuals may start noticing changes in their ear shape after a few intense training sessions, while others may take longer to develop cauliflower ear. The risk increases with activities that involve close contact, grappling, and situations where the ears are prone to rubbing against surfaces or opponents.

Top ways to prevent cauliflower ear

While professional BJJ fighters may not care much about having deformed ears, amateur practitioners often feel differently. If you work in a corporate office or a profession where appearances are more highly valued, there’s a good chance you care more about taking care of your ears. There’s no getting around the fact that Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a high-contact sport. Your ears will always be at risk, but there are plenty of steps you can take to mitigate your chance of developing cauliflower ear. 

Wear headgear

The most effective way to prevent cauliflower ear is to wear protection such as ear guards or headgear. Protective gear, not just headgear, can help reduce the risk of damage during training or competitions. It is doubly important for kids to wear headgear while practicing BJJ. Children are more susceptible to injury, so parents should always require their children to wear ear protection during any grappling or high-contact activity. Most sporting goods stores sell grappling or wrestling earguards that provide children solid protection against ear trauma.

Practice your escape techniques

Practicing escape techniques can help prevent cauliflower ear by minimizing the likelihood of prolonged and intense friction or trauma to the ears. Escape techniques can reduce the time spent in positions where their ears might be subjected to continuous pressure or friction. Strong defensive skills are also critical because they prevent opponents from securing dominant positions that could lead to cauliflower ear. When BJJ fighters become adept at defending against various submissions and controlling positions, they can avoid the prolonged compression or grinding that contribute to the condition.

Seek immediate treatment

If you do get cauliflower ear, you should seek prompt medical attention. Treatment may involve draining the accumulated fluids and sometimes suturing the ear to prevent further complications and deformity. If left untreated, cauliflower ear can permanently disfigure the ear.

Educate your training partners and teammates

If you’re part of a BJJ gym, having a healthy dialogue with your fellow practitioners is important. BJJ is a high-contact sport and communication and education is essential to promote a safe training environment. Don’t be afraid to talk to your training partners about the risk of cauliflower ear and promoting responsible training practices. Discuss concerns about pressure on the ears or specific techniques that might pose a higher risk, respect tapping signals, and encourage your team to use protective gear.

How to care for your injury 

The most important thing to do if you have cauliflower is to consult your doctor. Cauliflower ear can be painful and completely block your ear canal if not treated properly. It can also get infected and lead to other health complications. It can also lead to permanent deformity if not properly treated. Do not attempt to drain or treat cauliflower ear at home without professional guidance, as improper care can exacerbate the condition.

Here are the best ways to take care of cauliflower ear:

  • Rest: It’s crucial to avoid further trauma to the affected ear during the healing process. This includes refraining from activities that may cause additional pressure, friction, or impact to the ear.
  • Keep injury clean: After draining, a compression dressing may be applied to help prevent fluid re-accumulation and hold the ear cartilage in place as it heals.
  • Monitor fluid buildup: Keep an eye out for signs of infection, such as increased redness, swelling, warmth, or discharge. If any signs of infection occur, seek medical attention promptly.
  • Consult a doctor: A medical professional, preferably someone experienced in sports medicine or ear-related injuries, can assess the severity of the cauliflower ear and recommend an appropriate course of action.

It’s important to note that not everyone who practices BJJ will develop cauliflower ear, and the severity of the condition can vary. Preventive measures, such as wearing ear guards or headgear during training, can significantly reduce the risk of developing cauliflower ear. Early recognition of the symptoms and prompt medical attention can also help prevent the condition from progressing to a more severe stage.