Hot stone massage with the use of water-heated stones to heat and massage your body has become increasingly popular over the past few years. This use of heated water to treat the body, called thermal hydrotherapy, deeply relaxes your muscles and relieves stress.
Most massage therapists use basalt stones, because they are non-porous and smooth and retain heat longer than other types of stones. These beautiful stones come in various sizes. The massage therapist positions larger placement stones in one spot on the body for an extended time, while using smaller tooling stones to perform specific massage strokes.
The strokes are generally slow and gentle, in a way that many people find grounding, comforting, and calming. Some massage therapists use hot stones for energy work by placing them along the body’s meridians (energy lines) or on the chakras (energy points). Placing the stones at these key points can stimulate movement of the energy known as qi or chi and help release the effects of stress and facilitate healing.
Other potential benefits of hot stone massage include the release of toxins, relief of pain, and improved circulation. The combined healing properties of massage and heat bring many clients who have a hot stone massage once back for more.
Using the Stones
To heat the stones, the massage therapist uses a professionally designed heater with a thermometer for checking the water temperature. The water temperature is generally between 110 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Because everyone has different sensitivity to heat, it’s important for the therapist to make sure the temperature of the stones is appropriate for you. Always let your therapist know if the stones feel too hot.
When using placement stones, the therapist will put a barrier, such as a flannel sheet or terry cloth towel, between them and your skin to avoid the risk of a burn.
To maintain and clean the stones, therapists use different techniques. Some wash the stones and change the water after every client. Others use a spa oxidizer that breaks down bacteria in the hot water, keeping the stones sanitized all day. Then at the end of the day, the therapist empties the heating unit and washes and sanitizes all the equipment.
Cold Stone Massage and Contrast Therapy
In addition to hot stones, some massage therapists use cold stones. These marble stones are hand cut for use in cold stone therapy, which is especially useful for injury and inflammation. Cold stones can also invigorate the body or have a cooling effect on hot days or for hot flashes.
Another option is alternating hot and cold stones, a technique called contrast therapy. Contrast therapy takes advantage of the benefits of both heat and cold. The contrasting temperatures expand and constrict the blood vessels, stimulating blood flow and lymphatic drainage.
Cautions and Contraindications
To make sure that hot stone massage is safe for you, always tell your massage therapist about all your medical conditions and anything else affecting your body. If you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or are under a healthcare provider’s care for a serious medical condition, consult your provider before receiving a hot stone massage.
Heat can worsen some skin conditions, such as eczema, rashes, and psoriasis. Avoid heat if you are taking medication that causes skin hypersensitivity (such as antibiotics or Accutane for acne). Be cautious about any area that is numb. Avoid heat on varicose veins, open wounds, infected skin conditions, or inflammation.
In general, avoid cold stones if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, circulatory problems, reduced sensation, or nerve damage. Also, avoid cold stones on your abdomen if you have abdominal distress (discomfort, pain, bloating, gas, cramping, constipation, or diarrhea). However, warm stones moved in a circular, clockwise direction may help relieve these symptoms.
Enjoy Your Massage!
Now that you know the benefits of hot stone massage and understand when it’s safe to receive one, call your local massage therapist and enjoy the relaxing and healing effects of the penetrating heat of a hot stone massage.