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How Long Does It Take to Get Cauliflower Ear from BJJ? How Common Is It Really?

Cauliflower ear is somewhat common in Brazilian jiu jitsu (bjj) and wrestling which is why some people wear headgear in bjj to prevent it. One question that may come up is – “how long does it take to get cauliflower ear in bjj?”


If you are susceptible to cauliflower ear, you will likely see signs within the first 2 years of your bjj training. However, if you don’t notice any swelling or lasting damage to your ears duing that time, the odds that you will get cauliflower ear during your training are very low.

On average, about 20-25% of all practitioners will get cauliflower ear from bjj training


My younger brother and I started bjj at roughly the same time. Both of his ears blew up within the first 6 months of training while my ears still have very little, if any, signs of cauliflower ear after 6 years of training.

My brother’s ear
My ear

Again, on average, about 25% of all practitioners will get cauliflower ear from bjj training (this number is pulled from polling my training partners at my gym, 10th Planet San Diego).

However, this estimate can be affected by many factors like intensity of training, usage of different techniques, or the use of headgear.

Next, data pulled from Reddit and from 25 bjj practitioners who eventually got cauliflower ear show that:

  • 68% percent (17 people) got it within the first 6 months
  • 32% got it within 6 months to 2 years.

Again, if you don’t get any signs of cauliflower ear within the first 2 years of Brazilian jiu jitsu training the odds that you will get it at all throughout your training are very low.


Key Takeaways

  • Again, if you are susceptible to cauliflower ear, you will likely see signs of it within the first 2 years of training.
  • On average, only ~25% of bjj students will get cauliflower ear
  • Some signs that your ears are susceptible may be if they are stiff as opposed to flexible (stiff ears are more liley to get cauliflower ear).
  • Cauliflower ear develops as a response to as single blow or repeated ear trauma to the ear in bjj
    • some common positions your ears may take damage are pulling out of triangles or guillotines or using tight passing methods like body lock passing or over under passing
  • In bjj training most people will wear headgear when their ears take damage or start to get sensitive then will stop wearing head gear once the swelling or pain goes away

What Percentage of BJJ Athletes Will Get Cauliflower Ear?

While there haven’t been many scientific studies on the prevelance of cauliflower ear in bjj,

I surveyed the students in my gym during an advanced class at 10th planet San diego and of 41 students, 10 had cauliflower ear which is ~25%

Understanding Cauliflower Ear

Again, cauliflower ear is a physical condition commonly sustained during contact sports, such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), due to repetitive trauma to the ear.

Definition and Causes

Cauliflower ear occurs when the ear’s external soft tissue is significantly damaged, leading to a buildup of fluid or blood clots that disrupt the natural cartilage.

Some common causes include:

  • Friction or impact: Continuous rubbing or blunt force can create a hematoma that separates cartilage from the perichondrium.
  • Insufficient healing: Failure to promptly treat a hematoma can result in fibrous tissue buildup and deformity.

Prevalence in BJJ

In BJJ, practitioners experience a high degree of grappling and close contact, obviously elevating the risk of developing cauliflower ear. Factors that contribute to its prevalence include:

  • Intensity of sparring: Frequent and intense sparring sessions can increase ear trauma.
  • Protective gear: Not wearing headgear that covers the ears can leave them vulnerable to injury.

The condition is not only common but also considered a badge of honor among some grappling communities, despite its health implications. I know my brother was more than excited when his ears started to swell up.

Mechanism of Development

Cauliflower ear develops in bjj primarily through repetitive trauma and a biological process that involves cartilage separation and fluid accumulation.

The Role of Trauma

In BJJ, the ear is vulnerable to repetitive blunt force trauma, which can occur from direct, unintentional strikes, friction, or pressure during grappling. This trauma typically results from techniques such as headlocks, cross-face, guillotines triangles, and arm triangle chokes as well as certain passing techniques that require you to use your head like body lock passing or over-under passing.

Biological Process

Once the ear sustains trauma, blood accumulates in the space between the cartilage and the overlying perichondrium. Without intervention, this blood hardens and can deform the ear’s structure, leading to the characteristic hardened appearance of cauliflower ear. If not drained and treated promptly, the cartilage may permanently deform as the perichondrium reattaches to it over time, usually within a period of up to 8 weeks.

Timeframe for Onset

In the context of BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), the onset of cauliflower ear occurs in stages, starting with initial symptoms and potentially progressing if untreated.

Initial Symptoms

The ear may show swelling or bruising soon after an injury or after repeated trauma. This can occur within a few hours. Athletes might experience pain, redness, or a sensation of fullness in the affected ear.

Progression to Cauliflower Ear

If fluid accumulation is not addressed, the 7 to 10 days following the injury are critical as the ear may harden. If left unchecked, the fluid can solidify, causing permanent deformity indicative of cauliflower ear.

Risk Factors

Cauliflower ear in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) athletes can occur due to various factors. This section examines the primary risk factors that contribute to its development.

Frequency of Training

Athletes who train frequently are at a higher risk for developing cauliflower ear. The more often an athlete’s ears are subjected to friction and impact, the greater the likelihood of ear trauma. Those who train multiple times a week are especially susceptible.

Intensity of Sparring

The intensity of sparring sessions contributes significantly to the risk. Sessions with high levels of physical engagement and force can result in the kind of acute trauma to the ear that precipitates cauliflower ear formation. Athletes who engage in aggressive rolling and sparring expose themselves to a higher risk.

Protective Gear Use

Utilization of protective gear, such as headgear, plays a crucial role in risk mitigation. Athletes who neglect to wear headgear, or wear headgear that provides inadequate coverage or cushioning, are more vulnerable to the types of injuries that lead to cauliflower ear.

Prevention Strategies

Effective prevention of cauliflower ear in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) hinges on consistent use of protective equipment and the implementation of cautious training techniques. Below are specific strategies to minimize the risk of developing cauliflower ear.

Headgear and Protection

Wearing headgear is the primary method of protecting the ears during BJJ. Quality headgear should:

  • Fit snugly without causing discomfort
  • Have adequate padding around the ear to absorb impacts
  • Remain securely in place during training and sparring

Choosing the right headgear involves balancing comfort with protection to ensure it is worn consistently, as sporadic use diminishes its protective value.

Technique and Awareness

The second critical preventive measure lies in a practitioner’s approach to technique and their awareness during training. Key points include:

  • Avoiding positions where the ear is subjected to excessive friction or pressure
  • Being conscious of situations where the ear may be at risk, such as during takedowns or when trapped in headlocks

Training with partners who understand the importance of protecting each other from injury can also significantly reduce the chance of ear trauma. Practitioners should alert their training partners and coaches if they feel their ears are at risk during specific drills or sparring sessions.

Treatment and Management

Effective treatment and management of cauliflower ear involve prompt action to prevent permanent deformity, professional medical care, and diligent long-term care to ensure proper healing.

Immediate Actions

If an individual suspects they are developing cauliflower ear, they should immediately apply a cold compress to the affected area. This should be done in intervals — 15 minutes on, followed by a 15-minute break. Reducing inflammation is crucial during the early stages of injury.

Medical Interventions

Upon noticing symptoms, one should seek professional medical care as soon as possible. A healthcare provider may drain the hematoma to prevent the ear cartilage from hardening incorrectly. Following drainage, they may also apply a compressive dressing to maintain the ear’s shape. In some cases, surgical correction might be necessary, especially if addressed later in the process.

Long-Term Care

After initial treatment, long-term care consists mainly of protecting the ear from further trauma. One can use protective headgear while engaging in activities that could result in additional injury. Monitoring the ear for any changes and following up with healthcare providers as needed are essential for complete recovery.

Impact on BJJ Practice

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) practitioners often endure various forms of physical contact and pressure to the ear during training and competition. Cauliflower ear, which occurs due to blunt trauma or repeated friction, can cause significant complications that influence a BJJ athlete’s practice regimen.

In the acute phase of injury, the ear may swell, leading to pain and discomfort. During this period, an individual may find it challenging to wear headgear or even rest their head on a pillow, let alone engage in grappling exchanges that might exacerbate the condition.

  • Training adjustments: Affected athletes may have to modify their training techniques to avoid further injury. For instance:
    • Limiting sparring sessions
    • Opting for drills that reduce head contact
  • Healing time:
    • Immediate medical attention can prevent the ear from hardening into the cauliflower shape.
    • Without intervention, ear trauma can begin hardening within 7 to 10 days, affecting long-term practice schedules.

The prevention of cauliflower ear is crucial for consistent training. Usage of protective headgear is an effective measure to reduce the risk of ear trauma. However, if an athlete develops cauliflower ear, they may require surgical intervention for correction, which can result in training downtime.

Ultimately, the management and prevention of cauliflower ear are imperative to maintain regular BJJ practice and to prevent losing valuable time on the mats due to injury-related complications.

Frequently Asked Questions

This section addresses common inquiries related to the onset and prevention of cauliflower ear in martial arts, with an emphasis on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).

What are the typical timeframes for developing cauliflower ear in martial arts?

In martial arts, especially those involving grappling, cauliflower ear can start developing within 7 to 10 days after the initial trauma if the accumulated blood is not drained and left to harden.

Can cauliflower ear be developed intentionally, and if so, what are safe practices?

Developing cauliflower ear intentionally is not advised due to the potential for permanent disfigurement and complications. Safe practices would entail wearing protective gear and prompt medical intervention after any ear injury.

Are there specific sports or activities with higher risks of cauliflower ear than others?

Sports such as wrestling, rugby, boxing, and martial arts, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), carry a higher risk for developing cauliflower ear due to frequent impacts to the ear area.

What are the initial signs and symptoms of cauliflower ear to watch out for?

Early signs and symptoms include swelling, bruising, pain, and the formation of a hematoma or fluid accumulation in the ear, which can feel spongy to the touch.

What is the likelihood of developing cauliflower ear from consistent BJJ training?

While there is no definitive statistic, consistent BJJ training without proper ear protection or treatment of ear injuries increases the likelihood of developing cauliflower ear.

Can preventative measures effectively reduce the risk of cauliflower ear in combat sports?

Preventative measures such as wearing headgear, maintaining hygiene to avoid infections, and seeking immediate treatment can significantly reduce the risk of cauliflower ear in combat sports.

    About the Author:

    Zack Nicholas

    Zack Nicholas:

    Zack is an avid jiu jitsu practitioner and weight lifting nerd. When not on the mats or in the gym, he can be found going for walks with his wife, attempting (and often failing) to train his dog, and frequently obsessing over a specific hobby only to forget about it a week later. He can be reached over his LinkedIn or at info@heavybjj.com