It is well determined that training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has a big impact on the body. Of course, there are all the positive benefits of working out but there’s a dark side to it as well. Those training in grappling martial arts can be described as having a kind of a masochistic string. Such is the injury rate in the sport that you’re guaranteed to have a clear sign on your body that you’re involved in BJJ. It may be arthritic knuckles that get in the way of simple daily tasks. It may that loud popping noise that your knees make which causes people around you to jump in panic. Or, it might be the clearest sign of a dedicated grappler – cauliflower ears.
Cauliflower ears have long been associated with grappling martial arts, wrestling in particular. In fact, it is so prevalent in wrestling that the condition is also known as “wrestler’s ear”. Cauliflower ears are an unmistakable sign of a grappler and not one that’s popular among the opposite sex. Although having wrinkled up ears might be the “mark of a real man” it can also be a real pain when it comes to choosing earphones. So, if you’re prone to developing this condition, here are some options that can aid in treatment and future prevention.
Pathogenesis Of Cauliflower Ears
The condition of cauliflower ears, or “wrestler’s ears”, is due to the formation of an acute hematoma in one or both ears. A hematoma is bleeding that occurs in a certain area of the body, mostly as a result of trauma. Blood from the blood vessels pools into the surrounding tissue, forming a pocket of blood. In the case of cauliflower ears, this happens on the pinna, or shell, of the ears. As time passes by, the injury shrivels up and the skin surrounding the pocket fold upon itself. This folding of the skin is what gives the cauliflower-like appearance.
The reason behind the development of cauliflower ears in Jiu-Jitsu is mainly trauma. To be more precise, repeated, grinding trauma. Regardless of which grappling martial art it is, grinding of the ears is impossible to avoid. Since head control is crucial in grappling, you can see how the ears get a regular beating. In Gi Jiu-Jitsu, where the material is rough and tick, the effects are even more pronounced. Do you know that uncomfortable feeling of getting out of a tight choke? Well, do that enough times and you’ll find yourself with a pair of cauliflower ears in no time It is important to note that not all people are equally sensitive. Some can train for decades without a sign of it, while others might develop the condition in just a few months.
Apart from the obvious aesthetical reasons, there are also health-related ones to avoid developing wrestler’s ears. For one, an acute hematoma is really painful and you won’t even be able to sleep, let alone train right after the trauma. Moreover, as the condition is left untreated, the folds Haden up, getting a marble-like consistency. The resulting deformity can cause all sorts of trouble, including hearing loss.
The healing process of cauliflower ears is not a simple one. Every time the trauma happens, the ears enter into healing and recovery mode. The go-to recovery method is the formation of scar tissue at the site of the injury. This scar tissue that the ear deploys is a cartilage-like structure, which is why cauliflower ears are so hard. The more times this process is repeated the more scar tissue aggregates. This is the reason the ears start to look like cauliflower.
In order to give the ears every opportunity to mend, treat, or no, it has to rest. This is the number one mistake with grapples. Cauliflower ears are never taken seriously which only exacerbates the problem. Remember that the first step is giving the ears time to heal. That means staying off the mats for a short while. The first step in the treatment of cauliflower ears is draining them while the injury is still fresh. As obvious as it might seem, go to a medical professional to get the procedure done. Make sure you keep the pressure on a spot that’s been drained since it’ll fill up right back again. Ice is also always helpful in the few days post-injury, helping the swelling go down. Anti-inflammatory medication can be used while there is swelling present.
Unless an ear is drained in time it’ll firm up after 7-8 days. For those that never drain or in more severe cases, surgery is the only available option. The procedure includes extraction of the complete cartilage followed by corrective trimming. Remember that cauliflower ears become very tender over time and can burst at the slightest of provocations.
Preventing The Condition
Seeing how painful and complicated it is to treat cauliflower ears, it is better to prevent them from ever developing. If you are one of those people whose ears swell up right away, invest in headgear. It is the best advice you’ll ever get on the subject. You know those funny-looking things wrestlers wear on their heads? Well, they’re called ear-guards and they have one purpose only – prevention of cauliflower ears.
If you think the headgear looks stupid, you might be willing to try out some innovative concepts. There are solutions like customized ear splints, but their rate of success is still to be determined. I’d also add to avoid getting smashed but it’d be pointless. A good piece of advice, though, is to tap often in training. If you know you’re prone to ear damage, just tap to that triangle or guillotine choke instead of grinding out at all costs. It’s only training after all, and not worth all the pain and fuss that comes afterward. Keep in mind that there’s no 100% safety gear available.
Personal Experience with Cauliflower Ear and Surgery by Chris John
I developed a little cauliflower ear so I went to the ENT and had it taken care of. I wouldn’t have bothered but since I am in medical sales, figured I should fix it and thought I would share the experience here for others curious about what happens.
First, Dr wiped the front and back of the ear down with alcohol. Then he injected an anesthetic into both sides of the affected ear. The injection pinches a little and the anesthetic burns a little as they inject. After a few minutes, the Dr made a small incision. It was painless but I could hear the cutting. The incision released mostly yellow fluid. Afterward, the doctor stitched the special gauze to my ear using 2 stitches. This keeps the ear flat, otherwise, it would just fill back up with fluid. I didn’t feel him doing the stitches at all but you hear the sounds of the needle pushing through your cartilage as he is stitching which might be a little unsettling for some. The gauze will stay on for a week and needs to be kept dry then I go back next week and get the stitching and gauze removed. He also prescribed an antibiotic for 1 week as a preventative.