What Does Hot Stone Massage Do?

Woman receiving a hot stone massage

Getting a massage is a non-invasive way to relax and relieve pain. Massage therapists help their clients unwind and reduce stress, soothing aches through the power of touch and a rejuvenating sensory experience. Bodywork is scientifically proven to reduce stiffness, enhance flexibility and contribute to a greater sense of physical and emotional well-being. But of the dozens of massage types from deep tissue to reflexology, which benefits clients most? Consider these arguments for hot stone massage.

What is Hot Stone Massage?

A hot stone massage uses hot or cold stones to induce relaxation and combat pain. Techniques date back to ancient China and the South Pacific, including the Hawaiian Islands. Not surprisingly, the most common type of stone used by massage therapists today is basalt, smooth, flat volcanic rocks that retain heat and are thought to channel healing energies from deep within the Earth. Stones should be smooth, so they can be sanitized and flat enough to sit securely on the body. Porous rock can harbor bacteria and is difficult to keep clean.

What’s the Difference Between a Hot Stone Massage and a Regular Massage?

Stones can be used alone or added to other types of massage for additional benefits. Massage therapists can hold them as they massage the body using traditional techniques, including kneading, long strokes and vibration.

How Does Hot Stone Massage Work?

Hot stones harness the power of heat to induce relaxation. Massage therapists place stones, warmed to the proper heat, on specific parts of the body where they illicit calm and loosen up muscles for subsequent bodywork. Heat enhances circulation and improves the quality of treatment. Locations include focal points in areas where clients feel discomfort. For someone with lower back pain, a massage therapist might place a row of stones along the spine from the base of the neck to the top of the pelvis. They may use stones on the tops and soles of feet to enhance energy flow. On the forehead, they can relieve headaches. Other common spots include the abdomen, chest, face and palms.

Massage therapists typically heat stones in a water bath. Some use slow cookers or large turkey roasters that accommodate more stones. Others prefer professional massage stone heaters because they have more accurate temperature controls. Using water and slow heat guarantees the stones reach the proper temperature throughout without overheating. Heating stones in a microwave can cause the interior to be hotter than the exterior, leading to burns. Overheating stones can also cause them to shatter unexpectedly if dropped.

Similarly, using heating pads or frying pans to heat stones isn’t recommended because the warming occurs only on the surface, and the temperature can’t be monitored. Water helps stones conduct heat on the inside, so they continue to radiate warmth for the duration of a massage. A thermometer lets the massage therapist know their stones will be safe and effective.

Is Hot Stone Massage Better Than Deep Tissue Massage?

No one type of massage is better than another, but their goals vary. Massage therapists should choose the type of massage that best suits the clients’ unique needs.

Hot stone massages use heat and moderate touch to achieve their beneficial effects. Deep tissue massage requires a more vigorous approach. Massage therapists apply their entire upper body strength to stretching muscles down to the connective tissue for deep tissue massage.

Hot stone massage may be a better choice for clients seeking pure relaxation over pain relief. The effects of deep tissue massages are often delayed, some people say they’re uncomfortable while being performed. Clients looking for relaxation and help for sore muscles may benefit from a blended approach in which heat is applied before deep tissue massage to make it more relaxing. Used in ritual healing, stones can also be incorporated into most types of massage for additional benefits.

What are the Benefits of Hot Stone Massage?

As the opioid epidemic worsens, people are searching for natural pain relief options. Massage is a side effect-free alternative therapy gaining widespread acceptance in the medical community for its wellness effects and ability to treat a wide range of chronic disorders.:

Benefit #1: Relieves Muscle Tension and Aches

Doctors recommend heat for treating discomfort related to stiff muscles or spasms. Whether it’s from overexercising or a condition like arthritis, warmth is known to improve circulation and stimulate healing. Many fibromyalgia patients who get massages experience less discomfort and better exercise tolerance.

Hot stone massages are also ideal for relieving trigger points, knots of muscle that form when tiny tears in the soft tissue don’t heal properly. Treating affected areas with penetrating heat before a conventional massage makes them more responsive to treatment.

Benefit #2: Tames Inflammation

Massage can help improve genetic responses to inflammation. Until now, the pain-relieving benefits of bodywork were obvious yet anecdotal. Massage relieves aches by reducing the body’s inflammatory response.

Benefit #3: Improves Flexibility

Joints are supported by muscles. Stiffness makes it more challenging to move knees, hips and shoulders. Massage helps relax muscles, relieving joint pain and improving flexibility. Regular hot stone massages may help people with arthritis retain their mobility.

Benefit #4: Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Feel-good chemicals produced by the brain helps the body deal with stress and anxiety. Opioid-like endorphins are stored in the pituitary gland and released in response to physical and emotional pressure. Massage has been shown to increase endorphin release helping muscles relax. Hormones responsible for a sense of well-being, such as dopamine and serotonin, rise after a massage, improving client’s mood so they can better manage pain.

Benefit #5: Enhances Circulation

Massage improves circulation, forcing blood and lymph to move in response to long strokes and kneading motions. When soft tissue is injured by overwork or chronic inflammation, the localized fluid build-up contributes to stiffness and can impair recovery. By encouraging circulation, massage reduces discomfort and makes normal activity more comfortable. Since movement is the most effective way to keep blood and lymph moving, massages that make moving easier reduce discomfort and speed healing.

Benefit #6: Boosts Immune Function

People under stress get sick more often than others. Clinical studies suggest that massage not only helps alleviate stress, but it may also increase the immune system’s ability to fight disease.

Which Conditions Does Hot Stone Massage Treat?

Physicians believe massage can help manage these conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic headaches
  • Digestive disorders
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Insomnia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Exercise-related and repetitive stress injuries
  • Muscle spasms
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Sciatica
  • Autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lymphedema
  • Lumbago
  • Post-surgical pain

Who Shouldn’t Get a Hot Stone Massage?

Hot stone massages performed by licensed massage therapists are safe under most circumstances. Still, there are risk factors. Clients should consult their physicians before scheduling a hot stone massage if they have health conditions, including diabetes, bleeding or clotting disorders, osteoporosis, bone fractures, infections, open wounds or rashes on their skin. Pregnant women or clients who’ve had surgery in the last six weeks should receive hot stone massages only with a doctor’s approval.

All clients should be aware of the safety precautions massage therapists take to ensure their safety, from screening for medical contraindications and preventing burns to ensuring equipment, including stones, are thoroughly sanitized between uses to prevent the spread of infection.

Final Thoughts

Hot stone massage is a proven therapy, it’s a billion-dollar industry because it works. As more Americans seek a holistic approach to treating stress and chronic pain, career opportunities for students with a passion for wellness are growing. There’s never been a better time to become a massage therapist.

Want to Learn More?

If you are interested in the healing powers of massage, you can begin your career in massage therapy at Minnesota School of Cosmetology. Our short-term massage therapy training program is designed to be completed in as little as 5 months with full time enrollment*. Our massage therapy training program is designed as a holistic program that will prepare students to focus on body mechanics of their clients as well as develop positive habits for the therapist. Together, those two areas will provide a foundation that can lead to longevity in the career field.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a massage therapist and starting a rewarding career in the massage industry.

*Completion time for this program is defined by 35 hours per week.