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Hot Stone Massage Therapy: Combining Heat With Massage

Imagine combining the benefits of heat with the benefits of massage. That's what hot stone massage therapy does using water-heated stones. This combination helps relax muscles, improve circulation, and relieve pain.

Hot Stone Massage therapy on back

Types of Stone Massage

Although experts believe stones have been used in healing for centuries, modern stone massage emerged in the early 1990s.

Massage therapist Mary D. Nelson began experimenting with massage techniques using hot and cold stones on clients' bodies. Her work developed into the first modern type of stone massage, now called LaStone massage.

Since that time, other types of massage using hot stones have come into use, including:

  • AromaStone massage incorporates essential oils.

  • Desert hot stone massage is a common spa treatment offered mostly in the southwestern U.S.

  • Japanese hot stone massage therapy is based on Anma (traditional Japanese massage).

  • Native hot stone massage is based on Native American teachings about the healing properties of stones.

  • Sacred stone massage incorporates some of the principles of Ayurveda.

  • TheraStone massage includes other therapeutic massage techniques along with the use of stones.

Massage Stones

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Most massage stones used for hot stone massage are basalt, a smooth, non-porous stone that retains heat longer than other types of stones. Stones come in various sizes:

  • Larger stones, called placement stones, are left in one place on the body for an extended time. Usually, the therapist uses a barrier, such as a flannel sheet or towel, between the stones and your skin to avoid the risk of a burn.

  • Smaller stones, called tooling stones, are used to do specific massage strokes. Often, the strokes are slow and gentle; however, some massage therapists do vigorous massage using stones.

Massage therapists who do energy work may use the stones to stimulate the energy flow (qi) in the body by placing them along the meridians (energy lines) or on the chakras (energy points).

Cautions for Hot Stone Massage Therapy

Having the stones at the proper temperature is important. Stones that are too hot can be uncomfortable or even burn, so always let your massage therapist know if the stones feel too hot. Most massage therapists use a professionally designed, temperature-controlled heater to heat the stones.

Although hot stone massage therapy can be wonderfully relaxing, it's not appropriate for everyone, so always tell your massage therapist about any medical conditions or injuries. In particular, caution is in order if you are pregnant, or have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or another serious medical condition. Heat can also irritate some skin conditions and shouldn't be used on open wounds, varicose veins, infections, or inflammation.

Cold Stones

Although cold stone therapy is less common than hot stone massage, cold stones are useful for injury and inflammation where heat is not a good idea. Cold stones are also cooling on hot days or for hot flashes. Cold stones would normally be used for spot treatments, not a full massage.

A massage therapist can also do contrast therapy by alternating hot and cold stones. Contrasting hot and cold causes the blood vessels to expand and constrict, stimulating blood flow and lymphatic drainage.

Do not receive cold stone therapy if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, circulatory problems, reduced sensation, or nerve damage. Also, cold stones shouldn't be used on your abdomen if you have abdominal pain or discomfort such as gas, bloating, cramping, constipation, or diarrhea. However, using warm stones for clockwise circular movement on the abdomen may provide relief from these symptoms.

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Photo Credit: Ryan Hoyme