The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. The contents are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Anyone that has spent time on the mats whether it's training wrestling, jiu-jitsu, MMA, or another martial art is familiar with cauliflower ear. It's that thing that happens to grapplers when their ears have been crushed and smashed one too many times. The ears puff up and harden to a point where they resemble the texture of cauliflower, hence the name.
What causes cauliflower ear?
It all starts with trauma to the front of the ear which causes separation of the outer layer of the ear from the underlying cartilage. This results in the accumulation of blood in the area of separation between these two layers. This is know in medical terms as an auricular hematoma (auricle is the medical term for the ear and hematoma is a collection of blood). This is the stage when the ear is puffy, swollen, and often sensitive. If this blood if left untreated it can lead to new abnormal layers of cartilage forming resulting in cauliflower ear which is hard and often pain free.
What activities can cause cauliflower ear?
Any activity that can result in trauma to the ear, most commonly a shearing force, can lead to auricular hematoma and, therefore, cauliflower ear. What activities are most likely to cause shearing force to the ear? Any type of grappling for starters! Wrestling, jiu-jitsu, judo, sambo, catch wrestling, etc. all commonly use holds, pins, and locks that result in trauma and shearing force directly to the ears. For example, cross faces, head locks, guillotines, triangles, shoulder pressure, and other common moves frequently cause trauma on the ears. Other activities such as boxing, rugby, and other martial arts can also lead to cauliflower ear.
Pictured above, former Rutgers wrestler Jon Forster shows his cauliflower ear.
How do you prevent cauliflower ear?
The easiest method of prevention is headgear. Wrestlers have long worn headgear for this very reason. It's cheap and it's effective. If you have been training without headgear and are at a stage where your ear has recently undergone trauma and blood has pooled but not hardened (usually less than 7 days after the trauma), you may be a candidate to have the fluid drained from your ear. This should be done by a physician, most commonly an Ears, Nose, and Throat specialist (ENT). It is usually done in the office under local anesthesia. Once cauliflower ear begins to set in, usually after 7 days, then a surgical procedure may be required to remove it.
Do all grapplers get cauliflower ear?
No, not all grapplers get cauliflower ear. Some people seem more susceptible to the condition than others. We've been around grappling all our lives and have seen grapplers get cauliflower ear after only a few weeks and others train for years and never have any symptoms.
Is cauliflower ear harmful?
Cauliflower ear may impact your hearing to a degree. Some medical sites have indicated that cauliflower ear may also make you more prone to ear infections. Mostly, however, the condition is cosmetic. And in the grappling world, cauliflower ear is often seen as a badge of honor. We even offer a cauliflower ear collection that features our monkey logo, complete with cauliflower ear.
Want to know more about jiu jitsu, check out our article about jiu jitsu.
Want to know more about jiu jitsu belts, check out our jiu jitsu belt guide.
Read our picks for the top ten coolest rash guards.