Hot stone massage is a specialty massage where the therapist uses smooth, heated stones as an extension of their own hands, or by placing them on the body. The heat can be both deeply relaxing and help warm up tight muscles so the therapist can work more deeply, more quickly.  The stones used are typically river rocks or other very smooth-surfaced stones made of basalt. These stones are heated in sanitizing water before use. The high iron content in basalt helps the stones retain heat during the massage.

History of Hot Stone Massage

Both verbal and written history confirm the Chinese used heated stones more than 2,000 years ago as a means of improving the function of internal organs. Stones were also used for healing work in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Egypt and India.

Hot stones warmed by fire were used by Native Americans to treat aching muscles, but the modern revival of hot stones in massage is generally credited to Mary Nelson, a native of Tucson, Arizona. She trademarked her style of hot stone massage, called LaStone Therapy, which has a Native American spiritual component and requires training and certification.

Most spas offer their own versions of hot stone massage (they might call it lava stone massage, river rock massage, warm stone massage, and so on). A hot stone massage, however, takes a lot of skill and sensitivity on the part of the therapist.

Benefits of Hot Stone Massage

Hot stone massages are beneficial on both physical and psychological levels. Always check with your doctor before getting a hot stone massage.

  • Muscle Relaxation.  The heat from the stones helps your muscles relax, allowing the massage therapist to manipulate your deep tissues more effectively. Overly tense muscles can hinder the massage procedure, so if your muscles are extremely tight or stiff, the heated stones may provide the extra relaxation you need for the massage to be beneficial in releasing tension and easing sore muscles.
  • Pain Relief.  While all types of massage can help relieve pain caused by tense muscles, stiff joints or injuries, a hot stone massage may provide greater relief due to the intense nature of the massage. Because the hot stones allow the massage therapist to penetrate deeper, you may find that a hot stone massage leaves you feeling physically better than a Swedish or deep-tissue massage that does not incorporate heat. It is important to let your massage therapist know if you feel that the heat from the stones is too much or that the pressure being used is too harsh.
  • Improved Circulation.  Typically, a massage therapist allows the heated stones to rest on trigger points in your body before beginning the actual massage. As the heat from the stones penetrates into your deeper body tissues, your blood vessels open, resulting in improved circulation. Poor circulation can lead to fatigue, which tenses the muscles, and a buildup of fluid and lactic acid in the muscles. Increased circulation delivers more oxygen to the muscles, which can help ease aches and pains.
  • Mental Benefits.  Massage therapy can result in mental benefits as well as physical ones in many people. Some people find the warmth of the hot stones to be comforting and deeply relaxing.  You may find that the relaxation afforded to you through a hot stone massage helps ease some of your mental stress and tension. A hot stone massage may also help you combat some of the symptoms of anxiety disorders and depression. While massage therapy is not a substitute for traditional medical or psychiatric care, it can be an integral part of your treatment plan.

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 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 is the right type of bodywork for you.  Always check with your doctor before getting a hot stone massage; individuals with certain conditions are advised to avoid this type of therapy.  This includes those with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or are on medication that thins your blood.  It is also not recommended if you are pregnant or have a sunburn.