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How To Prevent Cauliflower Ear

I can still remember when my ears first started developing cauliflower ear. The semi painful red blotches that appeared on my ears were a bit annoying at first. But within a few short weeks they had calcified into permanent lumps that annoyed me and horrified my girlfriend.

Like me are you afflicted by the cauliflower curse? Then read on as we answer the question: How do I prevent cauliflower ear?

Why Do You Get Cauliflower Ear?

Cauliflower ear will develop when your ear is grinded, folded, or mangled in any way while you are rolling. You can also get it while doing repetitive drills either with a partner or with a training dummy.

This trauma on your ear will separate the cartilage from its connective tissue, with liquid filling the space in-between.

Not only will this be painful, but over time the liquid will calcify and permanent lumps will harden on your ear![1]

Roll Smarter, Not Harder

Part of preventing cauliflower ear is about being technical.

When I first started BJJ I would always get caught in all kinds of chokes, and instead of technically getting out of them I would try force my head through impossibly small spaces, crushing my ears in the process.

For example – if you’re being triangle choked. Instead of trying to force your head out, use technique. Here’s a great video of how to escape triangle chokes technically:

Of course this isn’t always an option: some people are more prone to cauliflower ear than others[2], and some of us (myself included) just love passing guards headfirst. Your ears can also get irritated and swollen practicing different types of takedowns.

So what you can you do?

Prevent your ears from cauliflowering, or fix them once they start cauliflowering.

Prevention: Use a Head Guard or Ear Guard

One of the most effective ways to limit cauliflower ear is to use wrestling headgear.

Headgear will protect your ears, however you need to be careful about what kind of headgear you use, both for your own, and your partners sake.

Like most things in life; with BJJ, choosing the right gear WILL make a big difference.

Some headgear is bulky and hard and might lead to your training partners to not like you very much. Additionally some headgear is uncomfortable and will damage your ears if not used properly.

Below I’ve outlined 4 of the most popular ear guards and their pros and cons:

Cliff Keen F3 Twister Ear Guards

Blue headgear.

The Good

  • Comfortable ear pad material
  • Soft and comfortable chin pad
  • Very heavy duty ear guard

The Not so Good

  • Headgear often slips off while rolling
  • Can put pressure on the ears, sometimes resulting in small patches of cauliflower ear

Matman Ultra Soft Wrestling Headgear

Man wearing headgear.

The Good

  • Low profile headgear to prevent training partner discomfort
  • Soft outside to prevent training partner discomfort

The Not so Good

  • Chinstrap annoying, often slips off and is uncomfortable
  • Velcro strap sometimes comes undone

Venum Ear Pads Kontact EVO

Black headgear.

The Good

  • Very secure
  • Soft and comfortable for the wearer and their training partner

The Not so Good

  • Very hard to hear out of.
  • Cup isn’t hard enough so some cauliflower ear may still occur.

Brute Quad III Ear Guards

Orange wrestling head gear.

The Good

  • Low profile headgear
  • Soft exterior which is comfortable for training partners

The Not so Good

  • Quite hard to hear out of
  • Get really warm after extended training

For a more extensive list feel free to have a look here.

Fixing Cauliflower Ears: Drain Your Ears 

If you hate wearing headgear for whatever reason another option is to drain your ears before the liquid has hardened. This will prevent the calcification process and ensure your ears remain cauliflower-free.

The safest and best way to drain your ears is to go to a qualified doctor and get them done by a professional. Not only will they know how to properly sterilize their equipment to prevent any nasty infections, they will also most likely have more skill in ensuring your ears are properly drained.

But lets be realistic. I know many of you will probably just get your training partner to do it for you.

Here is a video of BJJ savant Dean Lister showing how to properly drain an ear:

After you’ve drained the ear ensure you compress it to make sure it doesn’t fill up again.

This can be done by attaching a gauze or bandages to the damaged area.

The Verdict: What’s the 80/20?

Its simple. Prevention is better than the cure:

Wear Headgear!

While headgear may be a little annoying it is undoubtedly the most effective way to protect your ears.

Draining might work, but it’s also risky if you’re not going to a qualified health professional and will leave your ears sore for at least a week.

Even if you decide to go to a doctor you stand to lose. The accumulated cost of repeated trips to the doctor is bound to be a lot more than paying once for some good quality headgear. Taking time out of your schedule to both go to the doctor, and wait for your ears to heal is also an inconvenience.

Feel free to ask any questions regarding cauliflower ear or BJJ more broadly below, happy rolling!



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