What is a Hot Stone Massage?

Hot stone massage therapy
Marcela Barsse/Getty Images

Hot stone massage is a type of massage that involves the use of smooth, heated stones that the massage therapist places on your body. The therapist also uses the stones in the palms of his or her hands to massage the body. 

The penetrating heat and weight of the stones are said warm and relax tense muscles so the therapist can work deeper, more quickly.

How Does It Differ From Other Types of Massage?

The use of the hot stones makes this style unique.

Typically made of basalt, the iron-rich stones retain heat. River rocks are typically used because they have become smooth over time from the river's current.

To prepare for the treatment, the therapist heats the stones in water, using an electric heater, until they are within a precise temperature range (typically between 120 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.

The localized heat warms and relax the muscles, allowing the massage therapist to apply deeper pressure.

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 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 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 never rough. They are smooth and typically several inches long. The stones are warmed in an electrical heater so the temperature can be controlled. If the stones are too hot, 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 may place two rows of warm stones on the table and cover them with a towel. You would lie down on the table so that the stones are aligned with the muscles running alongside your spine. 

Warm stones may also be placed on the legs, abdomen, between your toes, in the palms of your hands, or on your forehead. 

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

If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, varicose veins, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, decreased pain sensitivity, recent wounds, areas of weakened or inflamed skin, tumors, metal implants, or are on medication that thins the blood, check with your doctor before getting hot stone massage. In general, hot stone massage should not be done on anyone who should not receive standard massage therapy.

Also check with your doctor if you have had recent chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery. 

Pregnant women and children should avoid hot stone massage. 

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 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 the massage.
  • Let your therapist know if the stones are too warm or the pressure is too intense.
  • If it's your first time at the clinic or spa, arrive at least 10 minutes early to complete the necessary forms. Otherwise, arrive 5 minutes early so you can have a few minutes to rest and relax before starting the massage.

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.

Continue Reading