What is a Hot Stone Massage?

Hot stone massage therapy
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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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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