What is a Hot Stone Massage?
By Cathy Wong, ND | Reviewed by a board-certified physician
Updated July 01, 2017
Hot stone massage is a type of massage therapy that involves the use of smooth, flat, heated stones that are placed on specific points on your body. Massage therapists may also hold the stones during the massage to apply heat.
The localized heat and weight of the stones are said to improve circulation and warm tense muscles, allowing the massage therapist to apply deeper pressure.
How Does Hot Stone Massage Differ From Other Types of Massage?
The hallmark of hot stone massage is the use of the heated stones.
Basalt river rocks are typically used because they have become smooth over time from the river's current and retain heat.
To prepare for the treatment, the therapist heats the stones in a professional massage stone heater until they are within a precise temperature range (typically between 110 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit). He or she places the stones on specific points on the back. While the points may vary depending on areas of muscle tension and the client's health history, they are generally placed along both sides of the spine, in the palms of the hand, on the legs, or between the toes.
While many therapists use anatomy to guide the placement of the stones, some massage therapists will also place stones on points thought to energetically balance the mind and body.
The use of hot stones for healing dates back to when Native Americans warmed stones by fire and applied them to skin to ease muscle aches and pains.
Modern hot stone therapy is generally credited to Arizona massage therapist Mary Nelson, who developed LaStone Therapy, a hot stone technique integrated with therapeutic massage.
Hot stone massage has continued to evolve, with many massage therapists and spas offering their own versions of the massage.
The Benefits of Hot Stone Massage
Some people find the warmth of the hot stones to be comforting and deeply relaxing.
Hot stone massage is suited to people who tend to feel chilly. It's also suited for people who have muscle tension but prefer a lighter massage. The heat relaxes muscles, allowing the therapist to work the muscles using lighter pressure.
Although there's a lack of research on the benefits of hot stone massage, the therapy is often used for the same conditions as a classic massage:
Is It Painful?
The hot stones are smooth and typically several inches long. The stones are warmed using an electric massage stone heater so that the temperature can be controlled. If the stones are too hot or uncomfortable, be sure to let the massage therapist know immediately.
What to Expect During a Hot Stone Massage
A hot stone massage may begin with classic massage techniques to prepare the body's muscle tissue. The therapist will place a sheet or towel over you before placing the two rows of warm stones on your back. Stones may also be placed on your stomach, palms, feet, toes, chest, and face.
Warm stones may also be placed on your legs, abdomen, between your toes, in the palms of your hands, or on your forehead.
After the stones are placed on your body, it may take a few minutes for the heat to penetrate the sheet or towel so you can discern whether the stones are too hot.
The therapist applies massage oil to the body. Holding the stones in the palms, the therapist uses gliding movements to move the stones along the muscles with added pressure and heat. He or she will also use classic massage movements on the back, legs, neck, and shoulders while the stones are in place or after they have been removed.
The length of a typical hot stone massage is between 60 and 90 minutes.
Who Shouldn't Get a Hot Stone Massage
While hot stone massage is generally considered safe when performed by a trained and licensed massage therapist, it's not right for everyone.
Consult your doctor if you have a medical condition, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, varicose veins, migraines, autoimmune disease, decreased pain sensitivity, cancer, autoimmune disease, epilepsy, tumors, or metal implants, or are on medication that thins the blood.
Also check with your doctor if you have had recent surgery or have recent wounds or areas of weakened or inflamed skin.
Pregnant women and children should avoid hot stone massage.
To prevent burns, a professional massage stone heater should be used (microwaves, ovens, hot plates, and slow cookers should never be used). There should always use a sheet, towel, or clothing between your skin and any hot stones that are placed on your skin.
Whether you're trying massage for the first time or are already a fan and interested in trying something new, talk with your massage therapist (and healthcare provider) about whether hot stone massage is appropriate. While many people find the warmth deeply relaxing and beneficial for the mind, body, and spirit, you also want to make sure that it's right type of bodywork for you—especially if you have a health condition or injury.
Some additional tips on making the most out of your massage:
Don't eat a heavy meal before your massage.
Stay hydrated by drinking water before and after your massage.
Let your therapist know if the stones are too warm or the pressure is too intense.
See a licensed massage therapist trained in hot stone massage.
Be thorough when completing the intake form.
Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen. (www.verywell.com)
What Are the Health Benefits of a Hot Stone Massage?
Medically Reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on November 16, 2016 — Written by Annette McDermott
Hot stone massage is a popular complementary therapy for many conditions.
During a hot stone massage, smooth, flat, heated stones are placed on specific parts of your body.
To prevent burns, there should always be a barrier between hot massage stones and your skin.
A hot stone massage is a type of massage therapy. It’s used to help you relax and ease tense muscles and damaged soft tissues throughout your body.
During a hot stone massage, smooth, flat, heated stones are placed on specific parts of your body. The stones are usually made of basalt, a type of volcanic rock that retains heat. According to the University of New Hampshire Health Services, hot massage stones are heated to between 130 and 145 degrees.
The stones may be placed:
along your spine
on your stomach
on your chest
on your face
on your palms
on your feet and toes
Massage therapists may hold heated stones as they massage your body using Swedish massage techniques such as:
Sometimes, cold stones are also used during a hot stone massage. Cold stones may be used after hot stones to calm any engorged blood vessels and to soothe the skin.
6 benefits of hot stone massage
All massages generally fall under the alternative medicine umbrella. They’re becoming a popular complementary therapy for many conditions. Here are some advantages of getting a hot stone massage:
1. Helps relieve muscle tension and pain
Heat has long been used to ease muscle tension and pain. It helps increase blood flow to the affected area. It may also reduce muscle spasms and increase flexibility and range of motion. Cold therapy helps relieve inflammation. Depending on your symptoms, alternating hot and cold stones during your massage may be helpful.
2. Reduces stress and anxiety
It’s the position of the American Massage Therapy Association that “massage therapy can be effective for stress relief.” Research supports their opinion. A 2001 study showed that a ten-minute massage improved cardiovascular responses such as stroke volume. A 1997 study found that 15-minute, onsite chair massages in the workplace significantly reduced stress compared to a 15-minute break without massage.
A 2015 study found that people who underwent abdominal colorectal surgery had less pain, tension, and anxiety after receiving post-operative massage.
3. Promotes sleep
A 2006 literature review found massage may be an alternative to sleeping pills in adults with insomnia. The research showed that back massage helped promote relaxation and sleep. A 2001 study showed that infants with sleep problems who were given a 15-minute massage by their parents went to sleep faster. They were also more alert, active, and positive upon awakening. Massage is thought to help you enjoy more restorative sleep, although it’s not completely understood why.
4. May help relieve symptoms of autoimmune diseases
Hot stone massage may relieve painful conditions such as fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread, chronic pain. According to a 2002 study, people with fibromyalgia who received a 30-minute massage slept longer, had fewer trigger points, and had decreased levels of substance P (a substance involved in transmitting pain signals) than people with the condition who received relaxation therapy. More research is needed, however, before massage becomes a standard fibromyalgia treatment.
A 2013 study found that people with rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from a moderate-pressure massage, such as hot stone massage. Participants in the study experienced less pain, greater grip strength, and a greater range of motion after one month of massage therapy.
5. May help decrease cancer symptoms
A large, three-year study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management examined how massage affected pain, fatigue, stress and anxiety, nausea, and depression in 1,290 people with cancer. The study showed massage, especially Swedish massage, improved cancer symptoms, even in those with substantial symptoms. Researchers believe the comforting use of human touch played a role.
6. May boost immunity
Massage may give your immune system a boost. According to a 2010 study, a single session of Swedish massage therapy had a positive and acute impact on immunity. Blood samples taken before and after the massage showed a decrease in arginine-vasopressin, a hormone that helps regulate blood pressure and water retention.
WHO SHOULD GET ONE?
Who may benefit from a hot stone massage?
Anyone who is experiencing muscle tension and pain, insomnia, or stress may benefit from a hot stone massage. If you have a chronic condition that causes pain, talk to your doctor to see if a hot stone massage is a good option for you.
RISKS AND WARNINGS
Risks and warnings
When performed by a trained therapist, a hot stone massage is generally safe. There are some circumstances where it should be avoided. Consult your doctor before getting a massage if you have:
a bleeding disorder or take blood thinners
burns on your skin
a history of blood clots
had surgery in the last 6 weeks
a fracture or severe osteoporosis
a low platelet count (thrombocytopenia)
A prenatal massage may help relieve stress and ease uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms. Still, most massage therapists won’t use hot stones on pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, you should only get a massage with your doctor’s approval, and under the hands of a trained prenatal massage therapist.
To prevent burns, there should always be a barrier, such as a towel or sheet, between hot massage stones and your skin. Check with your therapist to see how they heat the stones. A professional massage stone heater should be used. Never use stones that have been heated with a:
The bottom line
Studies show that a hot stone massage may be a helpful way to reduce stress and anxiety, promote relaxation, and ease pain and muscle tension. It may be helpful for a variety of conditions and circumstances.
More study is needed to find out exactly why massage therapy has such a powerful impact. It may have a lot to do with human touch. For many people, touch offers a sense of connection and security.
To make sure you have a positive hot stone massage experience, only use a massage therapist trained to work with hot stones. You may feel sore during your massage or the day after. This may be due to deep tissue manipulation and pressure. You shouldn’t feel pain. If you are uncomfortable or experience pain during your massage, let your massage therapist know right away. (www.healthline.com)