Cauliflower Ear BJJ: How To Avoid And Treat Jiu Jitsu Ears

Cauliflower Ear

When you first started out in Jiu Jitsu, you may have noticed some of the more seasoned competitor’s ears. Some of these intimidating individuals seem to have severely mangled their ears and you wonder what happened? Well they got cauliflower ears.

For those that aren’t familiar with this injury may be wondering, what is a cauliflower ear? Cauliflower ear/BJJ ear is a grappling related injury that can happen to individuals that train/compete in combat sports as well as other sports such as rugby. When the ear is struck hard enough the skin and cartilage separate causing the ear to swell up. The end result is a hematoma leaving an ear disfigured resembling a piece of cauliflower, hence the name cauliflower ear.

How Does Cauliflower Ear Happen?

As stated above cauliflower ear happens when the ear is struck or scraped hard enough to separate the skin and cartilage. It can happen for a variety of different reasons depending on the form of grappling.

  • Wrestling: In wrestling cauliflower ear can happen from either takedowns, clinching, and clubbing to break an opponent’s posture.  Many old school wrestlers who didn’t wear headgear during training have some nasty ears.
  • BJJ/Judo: In BJJ/Judo, when gi is involved it can rip or scrap the ears when gi chokes are attempted. While in no gi, cauliflower ear can happen like in wrestling or during choke attempts. Trying to get out of a tight guillotine when your ear is stuck can definitely give you a cauliflower ear.
  • MMA/Kickboxing: Cauliflower ear also happens in MMA or Kickboxing if the ear is hit with a strike(s). A punch or kick to the ear may result in a case of cauliflower ear along with some eardrum damage.

Is Cauliflower Ear Cool?

Some people see a cauliflower ear as a badge of honor showing that they train Jiu Jitsu. But at the end of the day is it really cool to have a cauliflower ear?

Cauliflower Ear is an injury that leaves your ear disfigured and if severe enough can lead to hearing loss.

The treatment for Jiu Jitsu ear is also a pain to go through. It can lead to extended time off the mat with a severe enough case.

Who Is More Likely To Get Cauliflower Ear?

Some people have said that cauliflower ears only happen to those that have put significant time on the mat. But that would be an outright lie. Many people reading this probably have a white belt teammate that has dealt with this injury.

The truth is anybody with any amount of training can get cauliflower ears. Accidents happen and an injury is just something that can happen in training. One bad accidental knee or elbow can lead to an annoying case of cauliflower ear.

How Can You Prevent Cauliflower Ear?

There is only one way to prevent cauliflower ear, and that is by using headgear. Headgear or ear guards are a protective piece of equipment that grapplers use to protect their ears.

If you don’t want to have knotted up ears, then you’re going to need to wear some headgear. Joe Rogan is a big advocate of wearing headgear, while training and never does without them. Being in the entertainment industry, he can’t afford having gnarly looking ears and believes everyone should be wearing them.

Generally, there are two types of headgear/ear guards. Headgear with hard plastic outer shells and the other types that are made of types of sturdy cloths.

The headgear that has hard plastic outer shells are the classic ones that amateur wrestlers wear. They are connected by 1-2 straps over the head and one that goes under the chin.

If you don’t like the feel of headgear with hard plastic cover, then your other option is cloth headgear. For some, they’re more comfortable and make you feel more protected. Some companies even make a headgear that covers your whole head and could maybe help prevent  head injuries.

Wearing this piece of protective equipment will definitely keep your ears safe from the dreaded cauliflower ear. If you want to know which brand of headgear is best, we got you covered.

Check out our complete list of the best headgear for BJJ

How To Train With An Injured Ear?

You can train with a cauliflower ear, but you have to be extremely careful. If you don’t take care of your injured ear it will swell up again forcing you to go through more treatment.

There are only two ways you can train with an injured ear. You can either do technique training only or wear protective headgear.

  • Technique Training: When you have an injured ear and still want to train without headgear, your only option is technique training. You have to cut out live rolling and stick to technical training that won’t re-damage your ear.
  • Headgear: Wearing headgear is a good idea when you’re dealing with some cauliflower ear or a preventative as stated earlier. Any contact to your injured ears may lead them to swell up again. Having that protective material covering your ears will prevent further injury to your damaged ear.

How To Treat Cauliflower Ear?

There are only two ways that you can treat a case of cauliflower ear. Either you can go to a medical professional for assistance or at home where you or a friend can drain it.

Personally, we feel you should see a medical professional for assistance with your cauliflower ear problem. For this section, we’ll describe ways a medical professional could handle this problem. 

Ear Draining

If you go to a normal physician to treat your ear, they will most likely drain your ear. Just like you could do at home only do a better job treating it since they’re a medical professional.

After the Dr inspects your cauliflower ear, they’ll choose what size needle is right for the job. They’ll dab your ear with alcohol to prevent infecting and then insert the syringe.

It may take a few drainings and bloody gauze, but they’ll be sure to get it all out. If the case of cauliflower ear is more severe, they may also use a scalpel to help drain it all. After they finish the draining process, they will apply pressure with gauze and you’ll be ready to go.

Generally, they will tell you to stay off the mat a couple weeks. But if you’re not going to listen, you better have some headgear handy or it’ll swell right back up.

Plastic Surgeon

Your next option is going to a plastic surgeon’s office to treat your cauliflower ear.

This isn’t in depth surgery, so you won’t be put under anesthesia for it. But it is more in depth than a traditional draining that you’d do at a normal doctor’s office or at home.

First, what they will do is most likely dull your ear with a numbing agent. This is so you feel them cutting into your ear. 

For the surgery, the plastic surgeon is going to cut into your ear and open it up. They will remove all of the scar tissue that formed from the injury. After the doctor is done cleaning out all of the scar tissue, they will clean the area and stitch you up.

You’re going to be off the mat for a few weeks, but it’ll be worth it. When the healing period is over and your stitches are removed, your ear will look good as new. There will be little to no sign that you had a cauliflower ear.

These two options are by far the best options and the top choices you should consider. It may get a bit expensive, but if you have insurance it shouldn’t be a problem.

Draining Your Own Cauliflower Ear

DISCLAIMER!!!: We at the site do not encourage you to do this method. If you do it wrong it can lead to infection or further disfigurement of your ear.

Materials Draining Your Ear At Home

The materials you will need for this process are:

  • Syringes
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Gauze 
  • Tape
  • Ice
  • Pain Reliever Medicine

Where to Get Syringes?

DISCLAIMER AGAIN!!! This is another reason why we do not endorse draining your cauliflower ear at home. Due to a heroin epidemic in some states, you just can’t buy syringes over the counter. This means to get medical syringes, you have to go through some effort to obtain them.

The easiest methods of obtaining medical syringes would be if you have friends that work in the medical field. Or maybe you have a diabetic friend.

A positive of having a friend in the medical field with extra syringes. If you do have a friend in the medical field, they may offer to drain your ear for you. Some medical workers like a nurse may enjoy doing gross tasks like this and will definitely do a better job.

Unfortunately if you don’t have a friend in the medical field you’re going to have to buy them. Buying them can be a pain. 

Amazon usually has them [Check Amazon], but you can’t wait two days on delivery to drain your ear. The draining process needs to be done within a day or the fluid will start to solidify. Your only option after that is plastic surgery.

Pharmacies do have them, but unfortunately most will not sell them to you unless you’re a diabetic with a prescription. This leaves you with two options. Pet stores and feed stores for farm animals.

They have syringes for sale to give pets and other animals medicine through injections. You could have to go through this headache if you want to drain your own cauliflower ear.

The Process Of Draining Your Cauliflower Ear

We’ve already warned you that we don’t encourage you to drain your own ear… But if you’re going to do it here are the detailed steps of draining your cauliflower ear.

  • Numb Your Ear With Ice(Optional): This step is optional, but it may make inserting the syringe into your ear less painful. Hold a piece of ice to your swollen ear for about a minute or until numb before using the syringe.
  • Sterilize The Area: Take a piece of gauze and soak it with rubbing alcohol and thoroughly rub the surface of your ear. This is to prevent infection during the draining process
  • Inserting The Syringe: Insert the syringe slowly at an angle into the swollen area. Be sure not to stick it in fast or you may go right through your ear. You’re trying to drain your ear not pierce your ear 
  • Draining Your Ear: To drain your cauliflower ear gradually pull the pump back until the syringe is full of blood/fluid. You may have to repeat this step until all of the blood/fluid is drained.
  • Apply Pressure With Gauze: After your cauliflower ear is drained apply a piece of gauze to your ear with pressure. This is to get the remaining blood and prevent the ear from swelling up again.
  • Tape Down The Gauze: Take a clean piece of gauze and put it on your ear and tape it down for pressure. You need to keep pressure on your ear, so that it doesn’t balloon back up again and repeat the process.

After the process, your ear is not going to look perfect, but better it’ll look less bad. At least it won’t look totally like a giant piece of cauliflower.

If you’re going to train after this be sure to stick to light technical training or wear headgear. Definitely use headgear if you want to do full speed training and do so for at least a month. Otherwise, your ear is going to swell again and you’re going to have to do this all over again.

Don’ts For Draining Your Ear

There are two big no-nos you shouldn’t do when draining your ear.

  1. Cut Into Your Ear
  2. Squeeze Your Cauliflower Ear

Cutting into your ear is dangerous and probably won’t work. Even if you manage to get all of the fluid out, you will most likely further disfigure your ear. You may earn yourself a trip to the hospital for cutting into your ear.(Which you honestly should’ve done in the first place.)

The other big error you can make draining your ear is trying to squeeze. A cauliflower ear is a hematoma not a pimple. If you try squeezing it, you’ll end up with a more swollen ugly looking ear.

Final Thoughts On Cauliflower Ear

Cauliflower ear is an annoying injury that you need to immediately treat to avoid further deformity.

If ever you end up with one remember the information here to get you back to training BJJ quicker.


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