Steeped in tradition and passed down through the centuries, Hot Stone Massage Therapy remains one of the most luxurious indulgences on the massage menu. Dating back to ancient Egypt, this age-old healing therapy has been used across the globe - from Native American sweat lodge ceremonies to the Indian practice of Ayurveda. But what is it about adding heated rocks to a massage that makes this practice remain relevant?
Present Day Stone Massage
In the early 1990’s Mary Nelson-Hannigan introduced LaStone Therapy, a trademarked methodology incorporating the use of both heated and cooled stones. Nelson-Hannigan, a massage therapist born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, and a practitioner of Native American spirituality explains, "With each day's work, I was intuitively led to use more stones, and developed a method of progressively opening up the energy channels (Chakras) of the body.”
Hot Stone Massages have been wildly popular ever since and have been adapted into various treatments including deep tissue massage, facials, manicures, and pedicures. Because of the hot stone’s innate energy, they are also incorporated into Reiki, a Japanese healing therapy, and polarity therapy, a holistic spiritually-based healing therapy. A true testament to Nelson-Hannigan’s innovation, a form of hot stone massage can be found in nearly every modern-day spa and salon worldwide.
Hot Stone Massage Basics
Today, many therapists use their own variation of stone massage, but the basics are typically similar. Therapy stones, traditionally basalt river rocks, are smooth and retain heat well. These massage stones, available in multiple sizes both individually and in sets, are heated in a hot stone warmer to a suggested treatment temperature of approximately 135° F. To prevent burns and uneven temperatures, stones should never be heated in microwaves, ovens, hot plates, or slow cookers nor should they be applied to bare skin without constant movement.
Using a hot stone skimmer or tongs, the therapist will carefully remove the stones from the warmer and place them strategically along pressure points thought to balance spiritual energy and release stress and tension – typically along the spine, between the toes, or on the back of knees. Although always combined with some form of traditional massage therapy, some therapists will choose to use the heated stones as extensions of their hands for a deep muscle massage without having to apply too much pressure. The firmness and heat of the stones enhance the massage’s therapeutic benefits.
Massage oils are used on the stones and skin to provide slip and glide. For ultimate relaxation, therapists often choose an oil made specifically for hot stone massage like Amber Stone Oil, available unscented or with the addition of essential oils for ultimate relaxation.
Staying true to the LaStone methodology, many therapists employ the use of cold stones, traditionally made of marble, following the hot stone application. The cooler temperatures help to soothe hot skin and calm swollen blood vessels.
Benefits of Hot Stone Massage
In addition to deep relaxation of the body’s muscles and soft tissues, hot stone massage performed by a certified therapist can alleviate pain, improve circulation, and is believed to rid the body of toxins. This modality can also reduce stress and promote a sense of calm. Enthusiasts of hot stone massage also claim to experience a feeling of enlightenment, inner peace, and renewed spirituality after a session.
Although specific hot stone massage research is lacking, studies suggest that massage in general provides health benefits to people with prenatal depression, hypertension, autoimmune disorders, pain syndromes like arthritis and fibromyalgia as well as age-related illnesses like Parkinson’s and dementia.
The deep relaxation of massage is an effective method for stress relief and has been proven to reduce anxiety and cardiovascular health.
Pain Relief and Increased Joint Flexibility
Muscle strain and joint pain are occurrences from both average daily activity and a variety of health conditions like arthritis and autoimmune disorders. Several current studies on fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis link moderate massage techniques with pain reduction and improved range of motion. The heat from the hot stones coupled with massage techniques help to relax those muscles making joint movement easier and more comfortable.
Decreased Muscle Spasms and Tension
From muscle cramps due to dehydration and overuse to the spasms associated with Multiple Sclerosis, studies have shown that massage therapy provides relief by reducing inflammation and tension.
Regular massage sessions have been found to decrease depression and anxiety levels and improve sleep quality, perhaps because they trigger the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can help you feel calm. The technique has been found to benefit children and adolescents, as well.
Check with Your Healthcare Provider
Although hot stone massage therapy is generally considered safe when given by a licensed therapist, it is advisable to check with your physician before treatment. 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 be sure to let your massage therapist know if you have any skin allergies or sensitivities, recently had surgery, or have any open or recently healed wounds.
Hot stone massage has been around for centuries and will continue to evolve as massage therapists put their own spin on the ancient healing ritual. In today’s massage and spa industries, you will find a variety of treatments implementing the healing energy of hot stones as either a standalone treatment or in combination with aromatherapy, deep tissue massage, pedicures, facials, and many others. No matter which you choose, you are guaranteed to be delighted.