The Grappling Reality: Why Do Rugby Players Get Cauliflower Ears?

John Rizzo

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Rugby Players Get Cauliflower Ears

Cauliflower ears have long been an iconic symbol of ruggedness in the world of rugby. These peculiar deformities, characterized by swollen and distorted earlobes, are not mere quirks of fate but the result of intense physicality that defines the sport.

Rugby is a full-contact game, where players willingly throw themselves into bone-crushing tackles, scrums, mauls, and rucks. Such unyielding physical engagement brings with it a heightened susceptibility to ear injuries.

The grappling, twisting, and compressing of ears during gameplay can lead to the formation of these distinctive deformities.

In this exploration, we delve into the intricacies of why rugby players are particularly prone to acquiring cauliflower ears, shedding light on the unspoken sacrifices made in the pursuit of this demanding sport.

Why Do Rugby Players Get Cauliflower Ears?

Rugby players are known for their rugged and physical style of play, which often results in a unique physical trait known as cauliflower ears.

Here’s why rugby players are particularly prone to developing cauliflower ears:

Physical Nature of Rugby

Rugby is a full-contact sport that prides itself on its physicality. Players frequently engage in fierce tackles, scrums, mauls, and rucks, which involve intense physical collisions and grappling with opponents.

These situations expose players to a high risk of head and ear injuries.

Tackling Techniques

Tackling Techniques

Tackling is a fundamental aspect of rugby, and it involves players using their bodies to forcefully stop opponents in their tracks.

During tackles, players often wrap their arms around the upper body and head of their opponents, unintentionally subjecting the ears to pressure and twisting, which can lead to injuries.


Rugby scrums are tightly packed formations where players from both teams exert enormous pressure on each other to contest possession of the ball. The close-quarter nature of scrums means that ears can be compressed, pinched, or crushed, making them vulnerable to injury.

Mauls and Rucks

Mauls and rucks are situations where players engage in physical contests to gain control of the ball. These scenarios frequently involve players wrestling for dominance and can result in ears getting caught or injured.

Lack of Ear Protection

Unlike some other contact sports like wrestling or boxing, where participants often wear headgear that covers the ears, rugby players typically do not use ear protection.

This lack of protection leaves their ears exposed to potential injury during play.

Repetitive Trauma

One of the primary factors contributing to cauliflower ears in rugby is the cumulative effect of repeated trauma. It’s not just a single injury but the continuous battering and compression of the ears over time that can lead to blood clots forming, separating the cartilage from the connective tissue, and resulting in the characteristic deformity.

Resistance to Seeking Immediate Treatment

In some cases, rugby players may delay seeking medical attention after sustaining an ear injury. The intense nature of the sport and players’ determination to continue playing can sometimes lead to delayed treatment, which can exacerbate the condition and increase the chances of developing cauliflower ears.

What Rugby Positions Get Cauliflower Ears?

Rugby Positions Get Cauliflower Ears

Cauliflower ears can affect rugby players in various positions, but some positions are at a higher risk due to their involvement in physical and close-contact aspects of the game.

These positions include:

Props (Loosehead and Tighthead)

Props form the front row of the scrum, where they endure intense physical pressure and compression. The close-quarter nature of scrummaging makes them highly vulnerable to ear injuries, especially if proper precautions are not taken.


Positioned in the middle of the front row during scrums, the hooker experiences significant force and potential ear trauma during scrums, lineouts, and other close-contact situations.

Locks (Second Rows)

Locks play a pivotal role in lineouts and frequently engage in rucks and mauls. These situations involve physical contact and pressure, increasing the risk of ear injuries.

Flankers (Open-side and Blind-side)

Flankers are known for their aggressive tackling, involvement in breakdowns, and participation in rucks. These physical aspects of their game expose them to potential ear injuries.

Number 8

Number 8 players have a versatile role, participating in scrums, lineouts, open play, and physical contests. Their involvement in various phases of the game makes them susceptible to ear injuries.

How to Prevent Cauliflower Ear in Rugby?

Prevent Cauliflower Ear in Rugby

Preventing cauliflower ear in rugby requires a combination of protective measures and awareness. Here’s how to prevent cauliflower ear effectively:

Wear Protective Gear

Invest in a well-fitted scrum cap designed to cover and protect the ears. Quality scrum caps provide cushioning and reduce the impact on the ears during tackles and collisions.

Ensure the scrum cap is comfortable and securely fastened.

Emphasize Proper Technique

Coaches should teach and reinforce proper tackling, rucking, and mauling techniques to players. Emphasize safe and effective ways to engage with opponents while minimizing head and ear contact.

Encourage players to tackle with their shoulders and arms correctly to reduce the risk of ear injuries.

Seek Immediate Medical Attention

If a player sustains any form of ear injury during a match or training session, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Early intervention can prevent the accumulation of blood or fluid in the ear, a primary factor in the development of the cauliflower ear.

Never delay seeking medical care for ear injuries.

Regular Ear Examinations

Implement a routine of regular ear examinations conducted by medical professionals for all rugby players. These check-ups can help detect early signs of ear injury or trauma and allow for prompt treatment.

Regular examinations ensure potential issues are identified and addressed promptly.

Educational Programs

Coaches, players, and parents should participate in educational programs or workshops that provide comprehensive information about the risks associated with cauliflower ears and the importance of preventive measures.

Increased awareness can lead to better compliance with safety guidelines.

Prioritize Rest and Recovery

Ensure that players get sufficient rest and recovery between matches and training sessions. Fatigue can lead to poor tackling technique and an increased risk of ear injuries.

Adequate rest allows players to maintain focus and form, reducing the likelihood of accidents that can lead to cauliflower ear.

Promote Awareness and Prompt Treatment

Educate players about the symptoms of ear injuries and cauliflower ears. Encourage them to promptly report any discomfort, swelling, or changes in their ears to the coaching staff or medical professionals.

Early recognition and immediate medical attention are critical in preventing permanent deformity.

Maintain Hygiene and Infection Prevention

Players with ear injuries should practice good hygiene to reduce the risk of infection. Keeping the injured ears clean and using antiseptic solutions as recommended by healthcare professionals can minimize the chances of complications during the healing process.

Consider Player Positions

Coaches and players may consider the positions they play in rugby. Certain positions may be at a higher risk of ear injuries due to their specific roles in the game.

Understanding these associated risks can help inform injury prevention strategies and player positioning during matches.

Foster Sportsmanship and Respect

Promote a culture of sportsmanship and respect for opponents within the team. Encourage players to play hard but fair, minimizing the chances of overly aggressive play that could lead to injuries.

A respectful approach to the game contributes to safer gameplay and fewer instances of cauliflower ear.


Do all rugby players get cauliflower ears?

Not all rugby players develop cauliflower ears. It depends on factors such as the level of play, protective measures, and how injuries are managed.

Are cauliflower ears permanent?

Cauliflower ears can become permanent if untreated. Prompt medical attention can prevent permanence by draining blood or fluid and minimizing scarring.

Can rugby players with cauliflower ears continue to play the sport?

Yes, many rugby players with cauliflower ears continue to play. Proper precautions and ongoing medical care can help manage the condition and reduce the risk of exacerbating the injury.

Do scrum caps prevent cauliflower ears?

Scrum caps may reduce the risk of cauliflower ears in rugby by providing some protection against ear injuries during tackles, scrums, and other physical play.

Are there any home remedies or DIY treatments for cauliflower ears?

It’s essential to seek professional medical treatment for cauliflower ears. Attempting home remedies or DIY treatments can lead to complications and should be avoided.

To Recap

Cauliflower ears in rugby are a testament to the sport’s unforgiving physicality and the resilience of its players. While these deformities may be seen as badges of honor for some, they also serve as stark reminders of the sacrifices athletes make on the field.

The relentless tackles, scrums, and close-quarter battles unique to rugby expose players to repeated trauma, leading to the characteristic swelling and deformities of the ears.

However, with increased awareness, education, and proper preventive measures, such as protective gear and immediate medical attention for injuries, players can reduce the risk of developing cauliflower ears.

Rugby is a sport that demands bravery and determination, and these traits extend to addressing the potential consequences of the game while celebrating its rich history and traditions.

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John Rizzo

I am a professional rugby player in the Washington DC-Baltimore area. I have been playing rugby for over 10 years and have had the opportunity to play in many different countries. I am also a coach for both youth and adult rugby teams. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Sports Management and Marketing. I am currently working on my MPA from American University and plan to pursue this career path after graduating next year. LinkedIn

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