Wrestling V. Headgear

Through the high school and college level of competition, headgear is required to be worn by the wrestlers on the mat. With this precaution at the scholastic level, headgear offers protection against concussions and can help reduce the damage caused from multiple blows to the head throughout a match. Headgear in wrestling offers the protection around the ears, chin, and side of the head by softening the impact of the blows to these parts of the head.

When choosing headgear, there are multiple things that come into play for choosing the right headgear for you. Such as the right size, how it fits on you, as well as the type of material it is made with. Some headgears are adjustable, with spacer straps as well as an adjustable chin strap. Materials can range from ballistic nylon, a vinyl covering, and secure buttons to solid plastic and Velcro.

In many matches during a wrestlers career, there are often heated matches with different opponents, and during these matches both wrestlers will deal out dangerous blows to the head, or mat returning the other as hard as they possibly can, while most referees will call this as unnecessary roughness, some do not and let the show go on, especially at the college level of competition. To protect against these blows headgear has been implemented and is mandatory to wear during most scholastic competitions, and is optional in tournaments outside of scholastic competition. Many wrestlers often edge as close as they can to breaking rules and avoiding calls, such as unnecessary roughness, where you cannot be extremely rough to your opponent and wrestle in a “humble and safe” way. Often, wrestlers will deal blows to the back of the head, ears, and face, as well as using their own head to deal head-butts. Headgear often gets in the way of skin to skin contact and helps you avoid scratches and bruises across the forehead and ear area. Wrestlers will also use clubbing and cross faces to their advantage. Clubbing is using a closed fist to hit at the back of the head and neck area, and cross faces us using your thumb, not your fist, to almost punch the other in the face. While these are both legal for the most part, they can provide harmful damage and injury to your opponent and can often get you called for unnecessary roughness, especially in matches that do not require headgear.  

Another reason Wrestlers wear headgear, is to prevent the infamous injury of cauliflower ear. “Cauliflower ear is developed from blunt force trauma to one or both ears” and ends in a result of a varying size of swelling, as well as pain. The cause of swelling is “separation of the outer skin from the cartilage that forms the shape of our ears” that fills with blood, and later hardens if not properly treated by draining the blood with a syringe. Cauliflower ear can cause permanent and irreversible damage if not treated properly and timely. As well as swelling, it can lead to hearing loss as well.

Although headgear offers protection against cauliflower ear, it does not fully prevent it, and can even cause worse symptoms and damage. Often, during a heated match headgear can be moved and no longer fit properly, putting a much harder material onto your ear, and blows will do much more damage than protection, as well as being another thing to grab onto and provide leverage for your opponent to move you around. Headgear is often restrictive and gives your opponent an advantage by having something else to grab onto for leverage. Without it, you lose the slight amount of protection it offers, but you gain the freedom to move around. While some wrestlers do not mind the cauliflower ear and even consider it desirable, many wrestlers regret having it, with having to get medical treatment and having it drained over and over again, as well as the permanent look or possible death in parts of your ear.  7 out of the 12 wrestlers on the National Team for the United States do not suffer from cauliflower ear, while the other 5 do. None wear headgear while wrestling. This is a much better statement versus the 7/13 wrestlers had suffered from cauliflower ear for Cherry Hill East, and 9/13 of the varsity wrestlers of Cherry Hill West had suffered from cauliflower ear, all wearing headgear.

Wrestlers’ headgear’s plastic coverings are one of the leading causes of cauliflower ear, which is painful to begin with and frequently causes further abrasions and cuts around the ear, which can easily become infected or turn into a skin problem. BJJ World argues that there is “No need to wear those plastic ear guards that annoy both you and your training partner any longer.” This is because Jiu Jitsu headgear allows for different materials to be used such as neoprene or nylon, while “they’re extremely lightweight, while still offering more protection than heavier-duty old-school ones” which also allows for more adjustable options through different straps on top and on the bottom. This is different from those of wrestling headgear with adjustable options only on the top depending on what form of headgear you purchase. While some do not come with this option at all allowing for slippage and a fit that isn’t firm, instead being extremely loose.

While in Olympic Wrestling, you will not see the wrestlers competing wearing any headgear from now on. This is because of a recent ruling, deeming it unnecessary as well as due to safety reasons. NBC Olympics starts with “light kneepads are permitted, but ear guards and headgear are forbidden”, because of safety reasons. Often, the use of headgear gives your opponent an advantage with something else to grab on to for leverage. In addition to this, the use of headgear also is the source of abrasions, cuts, and bruising in the ear, forehead, and side of the face area due to the nature of being hard and sometimes having edges that have the ability to cut. Another reason, is that the Velcro or the metal clip that is used to attach the chin strap is also known to be the culprit for these small injuries. While in high-school wrestling, headgear is still a must because of the Wrestling Rules Committee and the NFHS Board of Directors. In college wrestling, headgear is now an optional piece in most tournaments, but are still required in actual meets and duals. With possibility to change and follow in the foot steps of the highest level of competitive wrestling.


Cauliflower ear. Causes, Symptoms and Treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved May 5, 2022, from

BJJ World. (2022, January 19). BJJ headgear: Do ear guards help with cauliflower ear? BJJ World. Retrieved March 9, 2022, from

NFHS. (2021, October 26). Wrestling rules changes – 2021-22. NFHS. Retrieved May 5, 2022, from

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