Over the years, Emily Telfair, ND, and past president of the Maryland Association of Naturopathic Physicians has seen the topical use of castor oil relieve moderate-to-severe pain in patients who were not responding to pharmaceutical pain relievers, and restore mobility to stiff and achy joints in patients with arthritis.
Telfair suggests a simple castor oil pack as an affordable and low-risk option for calming inflammation and reducing pain. For those familiar with castor oil treatments, the traditional castor oil pack no doubt comes to mind. Less well-known is the “roll-on” alternative, which is often less messy and results in greater compliance.
§ Piece of cloth (flannel, wool or cotton) cut to 2-3 times the size of the area of application
§ Plastic wrap or ace bandage to secure pack in place
§ Old t-shirt or clothing to cover the pack and protect clothing from staining
§ Castor oil
§ Heating source (hot water bottle, heating pad)
§ Zip-lock bag for storing the pack between use
§ Fold the piece of cloth so that it is 2-3 layers thick and carefully apply oil until the cloth is soaked in the oil. Ring out excess oil over a dish or the sink.
§ To pre-heat the castor oil pack, place the pack in a heat-safe glass dish and then heat, using the microwave or oven
§ Place the castor oil pack directly over the area of pain or inflammation while relaxing comfortably, and cover the pack using an old t-shirt or cloth to protect bedding and other clothing from staining. Secure placement of the pack as needed, using plastic wrap or ace bandage.
§ Apply external heat source for approximately 30 min
§ After removing heat, the castor oil pack can remain applied overnight
§ Store castor oil pack in refrigerator between use for up to several months, and apply additional oil as needed
Roll-On Alternative (Note: This method is less messy and usually results in higher compliance)
§ Apply castor oil in a roller ball form directly over the area of pain or inflammation
§ Cover the area with an old cloth or t-shirt
§ Apply an external heating source (hot water bottle or heating pad) for approximately 30 min and then remove heat
§ Keep the oil applied overnight while protecting sheets and other clothing from staining, and wash off the oil in the morning
According to Telfair, patients often ask, “How does it work?” once they have marveled at the drastic shift in their pain levels after only a few topical castor oil treatments. The little research available about the mechanism of action for castor oil’s topical anti-inflammatory effects indicates that the main component of castor oil, ricinoleic acid, is likely responsible for its pain-relieving properties.