Why Do MMA Fighters Have Weird Ears?


Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and other combat sports are some of, if not, the most violent sports out there. Therefore, it is no surprise that some MMA athletes would have several physical appearances that are out of the ordinary.

Why Do MMA Fighters Have Weird Ears?

One of the most notable physical abnormalities that an MMA athlete would have is the cauliflower ear. Cauliflower ears indicate that the individual spends a significant amount of time training, especially in grappling style sports, such s wrestling, sambo, or Brazillian Jiujitsu.

This article will cover several areas in regard to cauliflower ears. These topics will include the leading cause of cauliflower ears, if cauliflower ears are permanent, if having cauliflower ears are painful, and the different ways you can do to prevent cauliflower ears.

What Causes Cauliflower Ear? 

The primary factor that can cause cauliflower ear is any type of trauma directly to the ear. Hence, cauliflower ear occurs most frequently in people who participate in physical contact sports, such as:

  • MMA
  • Boxing
  • Wrestling
  • Brazilian Jiujitsu
  • Sambo
  • Judo

People who participate in these activities are at higher risk than others. For a lot of MMA fighters, the most common cause of cauliflower ear is blunt force trauma and repetitive friction on the ears. This can be in the form of:

  • Direct impact (punches or kicks) repetitively to the ear
  • Rubbing of the ear from wrestling and grappling

Continuous impact or rubbing of the ear can lead to hematomas or small blood clot collections, which block the flow of blood and nutrients in the ear. 

The initial symptoms of cauliflower ears can be described as similar to symptoms that an individual might experience from blunt force trauma on the other parts of the body. When suffering from blunt force trauma, one would most likely have some sort of swelling, as well as bruised or red markings.

So, it is important that when you do experience such symptoms, do not ignore them. If you happen to experience symptoms on your ear similar to those mentioned above due to multiple hits from sparring or grappling while wrestling, then you may potentially have cauliflower ear. 

The faster you are aware of potentially suffering from cauliflower ear, the better treatment you can give to prevent your ear from forming into a full-blown cauliflower ear.

Is a Cauliflower Ear Permanent? 

If you do not immediately treat your cauliflower ear, then the condition can be permanent. Once hematoma sets in, the cartilage in your ears dies. After roughly 24 to 48 hours, the cartilage cannot be repaired, and your cauliflower ear becomes permanent. 

In some cases, however, the physical appearance of your cauliflower ear can be repaired to look normal through otoplasty surgery. Otoplasty surgeries are commonly used to correct deformities and defects of the outer section of the ear. Therefore, when you do have cauliflower ear and would like to have them repaired, you can apply for this surgery. 

The procedure should be completed within 30 days of the initial swelling and typically takes place under anesthetic. After the procedure, you are required to wear a headband for several days for your ears to heal. The healing process typically takes around 12 weeks, in which you can resume training afterward.

The Otoplasty surgery will be performed in three main steps:

  • Create an Incision Behind the Cauliflower Ear
  • Remove the Swollen, Discolored Cartilages that are Dead and Beyond Repair
  • Repair and Stitch Up Incision Marks

Sometimes, depending on the severity of the injury and the scar tissues, the cartilage requires extra work. For example, in addition to being reshaped, some require tissue from the ribs just so the ear can be repaired entirely.

Are Cauliflower Ears Painful? 

The moment when your ears begin to swell after you just got hot on the ear, or maybe someone grabbed you around the head real tight, then that is when the pain begins to creep up on you. 

So yes, for the first initial few days, your cauliflower ears will feel painful. Especially putting pressure on your cauliflower ear, that will hurt. For example, sleeping on your sides will be virtually impossible as it hurts your ear. So, you probably would want to sleep on your backside.

As mentioned before, if you do not immediately treat your ear when it is swollen, the ear will remain that way and will gradually harden. Over 7 to 10 days, the cauliflower ear will be permanent.

However, after several days, the pain and swelling on your cauliflower will begin to subside. This can create a permanent change to the ear’s appearance if not treated immediately.

How to Prevent Cauliflower Ear?

If you wear protective headgear during MMA practice and competitions, then it is unlikely that you will get cauliflower ear. Many MMA athletes practice habits to maintain their ear’s health. But sometimes, the love of combat sport does not come without sacrifices. Therefore, it is crucial to know how to prevent your ears from blooming like a cauliflower.

There are several ways that you can prevent cauliflower ears from forming. Below are a few tips to follow:

  • Ice pack compressions: Compressing your ears with ice packs will help reduce any form of swelling. Do this for approximately 15 minutes.
  • Stretching Ears Before Practice or Competition: This method is not scientifically proven. However, many elite MMA athletes and wrestlers, like Fedor Emilyienko, for example, stretch their ears for 3 minutes before workouts.  Do these stretches by moving your ears in a circular motion with your hand. 
  • Fluid Removal: Immediate removal of fluids in your ear with a syringe reduces the chances of your ears clotting, which ultimately becomes cauliflower ears. See a medical professional. However, your coach or someone in your MMA gym may have experience removing fluids from the ears as well.
  • Ear Silicone Molds: Ear silicone molds are a pretty new invention in preventing cauliflower ear. This equipment is considered an alternative to compression bandages. A pair of ear silicone molds looks similar to a traditional hearing aid, where you insert inside the ear’s lobe. Further, there is an additional piece that fits behind the ear. Together, they apply compression to the injury. Ear Splintz or Caulicure is a popular brand of silicone molds.
  • Rest: Probably the best treatment for any type of injury. Don’t forget to rest, especially if you feel that your ears are hurting. Take a break for several days, especially if you experience blunt-force trauma directly to the ear.

If any of the following methods do not help and your swollen ear hardens, you might have to see a surgeon or a specialist.

Another interesting fact to note is that there are people out there in the combat sports community where they would post online videos that would suggest ways that amateur athletes can get cauliflower ears quickly. This is due to the fact that cauliflower ears are seen as a badge of honor for many combat athletes.

One of the ways involves repeatedly slamming your ear in a door or with weighted plates.

Hence, for some people out there, developing a cauliflower ear itself is a personal choice. Some athletes do not even try to prevent them in the first place by wearing protective headgear. Additionally, many do not even bother treating their cauliflower ears once it occurs, as it reflects the hardship and dedication they go through. 

Conclusion – The Weird Cauliflower Ears are Preventable! Just Train Smart!

The more you train in MMA and other combat sports, the higher the chance you will get cauliflower ears. Some people do not mind it. Maybe they do want it. But others avoid cauliflower ears. Hence, it is imperative to follow the steps above to prevent your ears from swell up and look like a cauliflower. Forever.

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