Hot stone massage is a type of massage therapy that involves the use of smooth, heated stones. The massage therapist places the hot stones on specific points on your body and may also hold the stones while giving the massage. The localized heat and weight of the stones warm and relax muscles, allowing the massage therapist to apply deeper pressure to those areas without causing discomfort.
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 are smooth (from the river’s current) and retain heat well.
In preparation for the treatment, the massage therapist heats the stones in a professional stone heater until they are within a precise temperature range, typically between 110 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit. (Stones that are too hot can cause burns.)
While massage therapists often use anatomy to guide the placement of the stones, some therapists will also place stones on points thought to energetically balance the mind and body.
Swedish massage therapy techniques are typically used during the massage, which may include long strokes and kneading and rolling.
The Benefits of Hot Stone Massage
People often describe hot stone massage as comforting and deeply relaxing. The warmth is soothing for people who tend to feel chilly.
The heat of the stones relaxes muscles, allowing the therapist to work deeper while using lighter pressure.
There is a lack of research on the benefits of hot stone massage. People often use hot stone massage for the following conditions:
Is It Painful?
The hot stones are smooth and typically several inches long. The stones should be warmed using a professional 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. Stones that are too hot can cause burns.
The heat of the stones allows the massage therapist work on deep tissue, if needed. As with any massage, however, massage therapy shouldn’t hurt and you should tell your massage therapist if you feel any pain.
What to Expect During a Hot Stone Massage
During the massage, the therapist places stones on specific points on the body. While the points may vary depending on the areas of muscle tension and the client’s health history, the stones are generally placed in the following areas:
- Along both sides of the spine
- In the palms of your hand
- On your legs, abdomen, feet
Small stones may be placed between the toes or on the 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 skin. Holding stones in both hands, the therapist uses gliding movements to move the stones along the muscles. The therapist uses Swedish massage techniques 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.
Hot stone massage has continued to evolve, with many massage therapists and spas offering their own versions of the massage.
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 for you. 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 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 too intense.
- See a licensed massage therapist trained in hot stone massage.
- Be thorough when completing the intake form.
By Cathy Wong, ND