Why Combat Athletes Get Cauliflower Ear

Why Combat Athletes Get Cauliflower Ear

A cauliflower ear, otherwise known as wrestler's ear, is a deformity that occurs when a person receives damage directly to their ear. It is caused when blood gathers in the auricle which interrupts the blood flow of the cartilage. As the name suggests, the ear turns into a cauliflower-like shape. Unfortunately, this deformity is permanent except for a few cases in which the sufferer may reverse its effects through surgery.

Perichondrial hematoma is the medical term for cauliflower ear but athletes prefer calling it cauliflower ear. There’s no doubt that as much as combat sports are entertaining to watch and advantageous in a number of ways for your physical and mental health—they are also extremely demanding on your body.

The risk of obtaining severe injuries such as a tremor or cauliflower ear is very high in combat sports. Athletes have suffered from these injuries for millennia. In this article, we’ll be discussing how athletes from different combative arts get cauliflower, and how to  prevent it from occurring.

Cauliflower Ear for Different Fighting Styles

Each combat sport has its own technique to dominate the opponent, whether it's through grappling or physical blows to the body. In any case, let’s look at all the major styles and how they can be a potential cause for cauliflower ear:

1)     MMA: Mixed Martial Arts is a combination of several fighting styles and techniques. These techniques include grappling, punching, and kicking the opponent. Having multiple ways to dominate your opponent only means that there can be many ways to cause injuries to the ear and other parts of the body. For instance, attacking your opponent using your limbs can directly hit the ear causing blood accumulation.

2)     Boxing: One of the most widely known and played combat sports is boxing; the sport that involves striking your opponents with nothing but your fists. Although body shots are allowed to knock your opponent out, boxers prefer to aim for the head as it’s a more effective approach. A couple of hard punches to the ear can easily damage the ear. As you might have noticed, boxers in their defensive stance cover their face specifically to avoid these blows from connecting which is why cauliflower ear is rare among boxers. Their defensive strategy rids the possibility of receiving any severe injuries to the ear to some extent. However, a professional boxer can and will exploit any gaps in your guard that can allow them to connect a punch.

3)     Wrestling:  Wrestling is the art of grappling and throws. Getting the ailment of cauliflower ear is common in wrestling. This is because wrestlers are required to smash the ears to take control of their opponent’s head. The constant bashing of the ear in turn causes blood circulation to cease, leaving behind this dreadful ailment. Therefore, wrestlers tend to wear headphone-shaped ear guards.

4)     Muay Thai: Although cauliflower ear does not commonly happen to a Muay Thai practitioner, it is still possible. Muay Thai is yet another sport where combatants utilize their fists, elbows, knees, and shins to deal heavy blows to the opponent. However, in this sport, hitting the face is rare like in boxing, due to its advanced guarding techniques. It also revolved around damaging the body. But a highly skilled fighter can certainly damage their opponent’s ear during combat.

5)     Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: BJJ, also being a grapple-oriented sport like wrestling, can easily cause injury to the ear of its practitioner. Some people believe that being higher ranked in BJJ can cause a higher chance to receive cauliflower ear. This is certainly not the case as many white belts got this injury in their first few weeks of training. In BJJ training, rolling on the mat with the partner is involved which rubs the external part of the ear and damages it. There are also several submission techniques that can severely hurt the ear, one of which is the “triangle choke”.

A Badge of Honor

Although cauliflower ear is considered as a serious deformity in the medical world, many combatants consider it a worthy aspect to brag about. It is taken as a medal of honor and represents passion towards the fighter’s respective sport. This is a more common view shared between grapplers. Wrestlers and BJJ practitioners that have deformed ears claim they’re proud of them. They also associate the look of their disfigured ear to be more manly and attractive.

There is a common misconception that cauliflower ear takes years of training and ear bashing to develop. However, this ailment can occur to some athletes overnight. Regardless, this misconception is the reason why athletes consider cauliflower ear as a trophy awarded to those who are dedicated to the sport.

Can Cauliflower Ear be Harmful?

Like all physical injuries, cauliflower ear can also cause severe harm. It swells up the external portion of the ear enough to reduce the diameter of the earhole. This affects the hearing of the sufferer as most of the sound is blocked from the swollen area. It is essential to seek professional help and not perform self-treatment without the proper knowledge. This is because it could lead to an infection and permanently damage one’s hearing. If not treated properly, the practitioner may have to spend time off the mat or outside the ring, which is of course a fighter’s worst nightmare.

Prevention of Cauliflower Ear

Prevention of long-term ailments should always be prioritized as it’s better to be safe than sorry. Every sport has its own unique set of equipment that reduces impact to the face and ears. The best way to prevent cauliflower ear is to utilize this equipment, such as headgears or ear guards, which covers the areas sensitive to severe injury.

However, it’s essential to use the right kind of headgear as they come in a variety of types. Some headgears can be heavy and rigid, but others can be light and soft. It’s also recommended to be careful when choosing the size and use one that fits you best. One that is too loose can leave your ears vulnerable and one that’s too tight can damage them itself. One of the most reliable equipment that an athlete in a competitive sport such as Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Boxing should wear are head gears. All combat sports have their own variation of headgears according to the intensity of the sport.

A delima that often arises with using gear for prevention is that athletes look to stimulate real fights in their training, and protective equipment can get in the way of a complete combat training experience. For many, upping their game takes priority over 

Ear guards or ear protectors: The headgear used in wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for protection against any injury which would result in a Cauliflower ear or any permanent damage to the ear of the athletes. Without the head gear the continuous bashing and punching received by the athletes can result in bursting of blood vessels in the ear. In cases where the athlete has had previous injuries such as a broken nose or stitches on their face, they are required to wear a face mask as well which is attached with the headgear.

Head gear: Boxers, whether new to the sport or professionals, wear headgear which is a cushioned helmet. It provides sufficient protection against cuts, scratches, and swelling, but not against concussions. It will not protect the brain from the jarring caused by a blow to the head. However, it does protect the face and ears to a great extent, reducing damage which would result in a knockout by 40-60%.

Leather headgear: Muay Thai fighters prefer a head gear made from leather from cowhide or goatskin due to them being more comfortable while fighting. They also utilize this gear for protection and durability of the gear. Gear made from a strong and durable material such as leather greatly reduces the impact of blows in a sport like Muay Thai or MMA in which elbows, and knees are allowed.

Can Cauliflower ear be Treated?

Cauliflower ear is a permanent deformity of the ear but in some cases, it can be treated. The treatment mainly depends upon how large the length of the injury is and how severe the deformity is. It also depends on how much time has passed since the trauma happened. Ideally you would want to address the ear injury within a few hours to maintain high odds of successful reversal. 

One way is a surgery called Otoplasty in which the Cartilage bone is reshaped by the surgeon. The ear is then carefully stitched back in case it's sticking out. This requires the athlete to rest from any fights or training for more than a week.  

Another method requires the use of magnets. Once the ear has been drained, the person is required to place the magnets on each end of the affected area. This helps reduce inflammation and swelling in under 2-3 days. This method is only proven if the ear is not damaged too much otherwise surgery is the option most athletes go for.


Cauliflower ear might not be a fatal injury; however, it still may damage an athlete's hearing. It can also cause an infection in the ear if not treated properly. This in turn makes fighting harder for an athlete. Prevention of such deformity should always be taken into consideration.

Without the proper equipment, injuries are bound to happen in combat sports. Safety from serious injuries should always be a priority in any sport. 

Not all MMA fighters are susceptible to cauliflower ears, as many simply never form cauliflower ears, even after countless years of training.

Having said that, there is always a risk of you developing cauliflower ears. Therefore, it is always recommended by coaches and professionals alike to wear proper gear during sparring and training. 

Until the next one,

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