In the world of alternative medicine, castor oil packs, popularized by reported sleeping prophet, Edgar Cayce, are common treatments for back pain and other physical ailments. While medical scientists have not conducted tests that would verify Cayce's claims, the use of castor oil packs is widespread. Dr. Andrew Weil, health guru and author of holistic healing books, states that castor oil packs, "can't hurt you," although he also reports no knowledge of their effectiveness.
Edgar Cayce, the psychic healer, spent much of his time in a self-induced trance state, where he spoke of natural methods to heal specific injuries or diseases for people who requested his help. The Meridian Institute, an organization dedicated to collecting, testing and promoting holistic health, reports that Cayce mentioned castor oil at least 637 times while in trance. He gave specific instructions on how to make and use a castor oil pack.
Cayce suggested wool flannel for castor oil packs. Saturate a square of flannel, approximately four times larger than the area of back pain. A 16-inch square will cover a 4-inch spot on the back. Fold the flannel in half and in half again before saturating it in warm castor oil. Wring out just enough to leave the flannel damp but not dripping with oil. Place the flannel directly on the painful back spot and cover it with plastic wrap, then place a clean towel on top. Place a heating pad on the covered pack and turn it to the highest temperature that is still comfortable, leaving the pack on for 1½ hours. Repeat every other day.
The Japanese are familiar with the use of castor oil in healing and they also recommended a castor oil pack to reduce back pain. Instead of wool flannel, Japanese healing arts suggest using less-expensive cotton flannel in the same method as recommended by Cayce. Instead of skipping a day between treatments, they suggest using the castor oil pack on the back every day. After the third day, they recommend swallowing 1 tsp. of olive oil before going to bed.
The warmth from the castor oil pack and the heating pad may increase circulation beneath the skin, speeding healing, although Weil suspects that a plain hot pack, without castor oil, might offer the same benefit. The warmth may also soothe and relax tight tendons and muscles, offering relief for minor back pain.
Repeated use of castor oil may cause skin irritation in some people. If you're hypersensitive to the castor bean, do not use a castor oil pack to ease back pain. If you experience skin irritation, discontinue use of the packs or reduce your usage to one every three or four days. See a doctor for back pain that persists or for pain that prevents you from performing your regular daily tasks.