Hot stone massage is the best known and most requested adjunct therapy in the therapeutic massage business. In spite of its popularity, however, many people who enjoy massage regularly have never had the hot stone experience because they are afraid of being burned, don’t know what to expect or because of the additional expense.
During hot stone massage, heat penetrates deep, relaxing muscles that are tight and soothing muscles that ache. The overall effect of general relaxation also reduces stress.
Some sources recommend using specific kinds of stone to channel the energy of the earth, remove toxins, provide nutrients or offer other mystical healing properties. I’m not aware of any research that supports these claims, but they have marketing appeal.
Most massage therapists use basalt river rocks, which are reputed to have some of these mystical benefits. More important to me, however, basalt holds heat well, and river rocks have been smoothed and rounded by the movement of the water. Stones can be a variety of sizes and shapes as long as they are small enough to fit comfortably in the therapist’s hand and have a relatively flat surface to apply to the client’s skin.
The massage therapist heats the stones in water to a temperature is similar to a home heating pad, with the additional benefit of the stone’s weight and physical compressive qualities.
Some massage therapists cover the client with a sheet or towel, then lay hot stones out in a pattern over the client. The sheet or towel barrier is intended to prevent the client from being burned by hot stones sitting in one place for too long. The massage therapist may pick up stones to transfer the heat to her hands, then from her hands to the client.
Other massage therapists use the hot stone as an extension of their arm in gliding strokes. Although this method isn't as attractive in promotional photos, I prefer it because it reduces the risk of burning the client – stones have to be cool enough that I can hold them in my hand, and they are in motion, not resting in one place. In addition, I can apply heat to areas like neck, shoulders and feet where stones would roll off and can control the pressure of each stroke. As each stone cools off, I pick up another that still is hot.
After the massage is over and the client has left, I thoroughly wash and sanitize each individual stone. The additional prep and clean-up time for a hot stone massage is the reason for the additional expense.
Is the hot stone experience worth that additional charge? A huge number of hot stone massage fans believe it is.