What is a Castor Oil Pack?

A castor oil pack is a safe, comfortable and inexpensive home treatment for relieving many kinds of pain. It is often recommended for premenstrual pain, digestive problems, and joint inflammation.

To make a castor oil pack, soak a piece of wool or cotton flannel in castor oil, and place over the affected body region. Cover the flannel with a sheet of plastic wrapping, and a place a hot water bottle or heating pad on top. Rest for 30-60 minutes with the pack. (Read below for more detailed instructions.)

What is Castor Oil?

Castor oil is derived from the seed of the castor bean, Ricinis comunis. The oil has a long history of use in folk medicine around the world, including Chinese herbalism. Originating in India, its use spread to Egypt, China, Greece and ancient Rome. External use as a pack has been around for a very long time.

Unfortunately, castor oil has unpleasant associations for many people, because of its famous use as a laxative. Castor oil can have harsh effects when taken internally, and we do not recommend internal use. There are better, natural herbal laxatives available.

How Does a Castor Oil Pack Work?

A castor oil pack works by stimulating circulation of blood and lymph and may help regulate smooth muscle contraction to relieve pain and cause laxation. As with many natural folk remedies, clinical research studies are scanty. Fortunately, we do know something about the physiology of how castor oil works.

Castor oil contains a unique fatty acid, ricinoleic acid. A recent study found that ricinoleic acid binds with a specific prostaglandin receptor, which regulates smooth muscle contraction. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances found in nearly every cell, which have diverse physiological functions. It’s likely that ricinoleic acid is behind at least some of the beneficial effects of the castor oil pack.

Specific Uses of the Castor Oil Pack

  • Chronic joint pain due to arthritis, bursitis, etc. – apply over the affected joint or area (e.g., shoulder, hip, back, elbow, knee).
  • Digestive problems – place over the lower abdomen or upper abdomen as needed to relieve pain, constipation and other digestive problems.
  • Menstrual and other gynecologic problems (e.g. uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts) – apply over the lower abdomen.
  • Liver detoxification – apply to the right side of the abdomen as part of a liver detox program.

The castor oil pack method is most beneficial when used consistently several times per week for gradual pain relief and prevention.

Precautions for Use of a Castor Oil Pack

A castor oil pack is very safe if used properly. Use it only over unbroken skin, and avoid areas with cuts or bruises.

The castor oil pack is contraindicated during pregnancy because of its strong effects on circulation and muscle contraction. Use the castor oil pack with caution during menstruation, since the increased circulation may cause heavier flow and release of blood clots.

Do not take castor oil internally because of its harsh laxative effects.

Materials Needed to Make a Castor Oil Pack

  • Wool or cotton flannel piece, large enough to fold over three layers and cover the affected area
  • castor oil, preferably organically sourced, sufficient amount to soak the flannel
  • plastic wrap cut about two inches larger than the flannel
  • hot water bottle or heating pad
  • lidded container, large enough to hold the flannel and the oil

Method to Make, Use and Store a Castor Oil Pack

  • Place the flannel in the container. Cover with castor oil, enough to soak the flannel. The flannel should be soaked but not dripping.
  • Apply the soaked flannel to the affected body area.
  • Cover with plastic wrap to prevent any leakage of oil onto clothing or sheets. (Be aware that castor oil may stain.)
  • Apply a hot water bottle or heating pad over the castor oil pack. Rest for 30 to 60 minutes.
  • After removing the castor oil pack, clean the skin to remove any residual oiliness.
  • Store the soaked flannel in a covered container in the refrigerator. A castor oil pack can be re-used several times.

Inner Works Acupuncture is a holistic wellness clinic in Portland, Oregon. Contact us today at 503-227-2127 to schedule an appointment.