I train without headgear and depending on the day have to admit that sometimes my ears feel beat up after a few rounds. I was wondering if headgear would make getting cauliflower ear impossible, so I asked a few black belts what they thought and this is what the consensus was.
Training BJJ with properly fitted headgear will reduce your chances of getting cauliflower ear but not prevent it completely. Being aware of your ears during training to avoid injury and treating them immediately upon getting cauliflower ear can do a lot to prevent permanent cauliflower ear.
Properly wearing headgear during jiu-jitsu is very useful in preventing this injury. Let’s discuss how to avoid cauliflower ear, how athletes get cauliflower ear, why you want to avoid cauliflower in the first place, and why some athletes sometimes wear it as a badge of honor.
How to Avoid Cauliflower Ear When Training BJJ
Using headgear every time you train is an effective way to avoid cauliflower ear. Other options are simply avoiding situations in which getting cauliflower ear is likely, for instance, tapping instead of trying to pull out of tight headlocks.
All it takes is one incident to get cauliflower ear so wearing headgear is one of the only ways to consistently protect yourself from this condition.
Ideal headgear will have a hard flexible plastic outside and adjustable straps like this headgear that is available on Amazon, which is relatively common on the mats where I train.
Ensure that the headgear is secured properly on your head and is fitted correctly. If the straps are too loose or too tight, for example, it can cause the headgear to more easily shift and result in the same damage or worse happening to your ear.
The whole premise of this protective gear is that you will protect it from trauma by creating a little pocket for your ear. An ill-fitted headgear that allows for shifting makes your ears vulnerable to physical trauma between your ear and the headgear itself, which is something we definitely want to avoid.
There is a misconception that the injury represents your dedication to the sport. This flawed way of thinking is a bit of a harmful cultural thought in the BJJ community. If we manage to shift away from this type of thinking and more towards a focus on safety and protection, we will almost certainly see a reduction in athletes with cauliflower ears.
If you do sustain an ear injury and you recognize that it is accumulating fluid, it is important that you drain and compress it immediately. After draining the fluid, you can compress it using a product like CauliBuds, which are small magnets that go on either side of the cartilage part of your ear. They work by compressing the area where the injury took place, preventing it from filling with fluid until completely healed.
If for some reason you are unwilling to or unable to wear headgear during jiu-jitsu the next best thing that people don’t seem to consider is that you can simply just be more aware of the situations in which you are likely to get cauliflower ear and adjust accordingly.
In my experience, people practicing jiu-jitsu tend to get cauliflower ears when they struggle to get out of headlock or head pinch situations and end up with shearing force against their outer ears. Since I don’t personally wear headgear, I just make sure that I tap or work escapes that don’t put my ears at as much risk in these situations.
Most tournaments, including those by the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), do not allow headgear during tournaments. This is because the plastic on the headgear could pose a risk to your opponent. You can wear it during most normal training sessions at the majority of schools.
Yes, you can get a cauliflower ear from BJJ. In fact, just like other grappling arts, BJJ athletes are quite susceptible to getting cauliflower ear. The ears are vulnerable during chokeholds and headlocks, making it more likely for BJJ athletes to get cauliflower ears than in most other athletic endeavors.
Unfortunately, you can still get cauliflower ear while you wear headgear. Typically, headgear fails mostly because users do not use it correctly and let it fit too loose or too tight. If the headgear can move across your ears for any reason, you’re more likely to end up with a cauliflower ear situation.
Put simply, a cauliflower ear is the accumulation of blood and fluids in your ear that has hardened. It happens when the cartilage in the ear is torn or damaged, which causes that area of the ear to fill with fluid. It can cause the ear to look like a head of cauliflower in particularly bad cases, hence the name.
It results from trauma to the ear, particularly common among athletes who play contact sports such as BJJ or wrestling. That is why you often see these athletes wearing headgear to mitigate the risk of trauma.
A common misconception about cauliflower ear is that it happens over a long period of time, so it is okay to occasionally not wear your headgear. This is false. While it can be the result of repeated trauma over a long period of time, it is frequently the result of a one-time incident. A single hard impact to the ear can result in damage that can lead to cauliflower ear.
Cauliflower ear is more than simply an aesthetic issue for those who have it. It is painful, especially right after the initial incident, even hindering sleep for many people. The worst cases of cauliflower ear make it difficult or impossible to use headphones or earbuds. It can result in a reduction in hearing. Lastly, and in extreme cases, it can result in infection or the ear cartilage simply dying altogether.
To an outsider, it may seem crazy that someone would want to develop a cauliflower ear. It is painful, aesthetically unpleasing, and results in permanent damage to the ear. However, many MMA athletes and grapplers consider it a badge of honor representing all of their hard work and dedication.
People in the BJJ community are no exception, and cauliflower ear has become part of the norm. This is a somewhat dangerous notion because it glorifies a health condition that can cause long-term damage.
In order to prevent the fluid from calcifying (hardening), you should get your ear drained as soon as possible. Visiting a doctor’s office gives you the safest most sterile treatment possible.
However, if you cannot or will not go to the doctor it is possible for you to do this at home. Check out the video below for how some grapplers decide to drain cauliflower ears.
Your ear will fill with fluid in less than 24 hours from the initial injury, which is why you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible to mitigate the damage. It can take several days or a couple of weeks for it to fully calcify, so medical treatment needs to happen before then.
No, cauliflower ear will not heal on its own. It is permanent and can contribute to other ailments, such as hearing loss, to those who get it. However, most cases of cauliflower ear are benign and pose only an aesthetic issue.
While it will never go away on its own, there is a surgical procedure called otoplasty that can reduce the cauliflower-like appearance in the ear. The surgeon cuts behind the ear and removes some of the hardened cartilage that is creating the bumpy appearance. He then sews it back and reshapes it. It is relatively non-invasive and these patients can return to physical activity in about six weeks.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu inherently carries some risk of physical injuries including cauliflower ear. Cauliflower ear is one of the ailments in the sport that can be mitigated while grappling. If it happens, seeking treatment immediately afterward is very effective in preventing cauliflower ear from becoming a permanent condition.
Preventing cauliflower ear is relatively simple. Avoid situations where you will have physical trauma to your ear while grappling and wear headgear properly whenever you can. Opting to wear headgear each time you go on the mat is the action that will most increase the overall safety of your ears.
For more check out Do You Wear a Cup in BJJ? | Things to Consider.