Massage

What Is a Hot Stone Massage and Why Should You Try It?

You may have seen pictures on a spa’s website or social media of smooth, glistening stones lying tranquilly in a line on someone’s back.

There’s more to these stones than a pretty picture.

Massage therapists use hot stones to release tension, massage muscles and other soft tissue, soothing your aches and pains and providing a deeply relaxing experience. With a little heat and a self-massager, you can get this relaxing experience at home, too.

Learn all about hot stone massages, their benefits, and how to get one.

What Is a Hot Stone Massage?

A hot stone massage is a soothing type of massage therapy that uses smooth, heated stones to relieve tension and help you relax. Cultures around the world have been using hot stones as part of general wellness treatments and massages for thousands of years, and there’s a reason this practice has stuck around.

If you think a standard massage is a soothing experience, the addition of heat turns a relaxing session into true luxury.

The stones aren’t just for display—they’re one of the tools a massage therapist will use to work out tension and tightness in your muscles. In addition to placing them at various points on the body where the therapist aims to relieve discomfort, they will apply oil and rub the hot stones onto your skin along with their hands and other tools.

They don’t have magical powers, but the relief a massage therapist can deliver with their hands and some hot stones might feel like magic!

What Stones Are Used in a Hot Stone Massage?

Typically, the stones used for a massage are basalt—dense volcanic stones that come from the Earth’s mantle. These stones are light gray, but they turn dark gray or black when oil is applied.

Basalt stones are extremely smooth. When heated or chilled in water, they provide a firm but smooth and comfortable pressure against the skin that can help loosen knotted muscles and other soft tissue.

How Hot Are the Hot Stones?

The basalt stones can be heated to anywhere between 100º F and 150º F. Typically, they’ll be in the middle of that range, about 120º F to 140º F—nowhere near as hot as they were when they came out of a volcano, but warm enough to ease tight muscles.

The temperature of the stones depends on the customer’s preferences and tolerance levels. You might be more sensitive to heat than other people. Or, if you like steaming hot showers, you might ask for hotter stones. The massage therapist will know the safe limits and help you decide how hot the stones should be.

The ideal temperature of the stones also varies between different body parts. For many people, the extremities—your arms and legs—are more sensitive and need cooler stones than other areas, like your back. However, your feet might be able to handle hotter stones (especially if you’re used to barefoot summertime walks around the patio).

Sometimes, the therapist will cover your skin with a towel before placing the stones to avoid any initial discomfort.

At this point, you may be wondering: why the use of heated stones at all?

What Do Hot Stones Do?

Heat is often used as a part of recovery and pain relief treatments.

Research shows that heat can help increase blood flow and soothe some pain. At the same time, the warmth of the stones helps warm the parts of your body that the therapist is massaging, which helps promote the release of tension alongside gentle pressure and deeper kneading.

Purpose and Benefits of a Hot Stone Massage

Do you feel relaxed when you turn on the heated seats in your car? Do you use a heated massage cushion on the couch or in bed?

Heat can help boost the soothing effects of nearly every kind of massage, from Shiatsu massage on your upper back to vibration massage on your feet.

A hot stone massage is good for anyone who enjoys the relaxing benefits of a massage. If you feel tension, soreness, tightness, or stress and want a break, a hot stone massage may help relieve some of your symptoms.

The benefits of hot stone massages and other types of heated massages include releasing tension, promoting relaxation, and helping relieve stress. Massaging muscles and other soft tissue while adding heat can help release the tension that builds up throughout the day and alleviate some of the soreness associated with it.

A massage can also be a great way to practice self-care when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed by work and personal responsibilities. A hot stone massage is an opportunity to turn off your computer, silence notifications, and relax for an hour while the stress and tension melt away under the heat of the stones and the pressure from the therapist’s hands.

What to Expect During a Hot Stone Massage Session

During a professional hot stone massage, the therapist will heat the stones to the proper temperature while you lie on the massage table and relax.

As they place the stones on your back, you can feel free to talk to the person doing the massage about your preferred temperature and let them know if it’s too hot or if you’d like more heat. People react differently and have varying levels of tolerance for heat, so communication is important and will help make sure your experience is as good as it can be.

The therapist will apply massage oil to the stones and your skin, which makes it easier for the smooth stones to slide over your skin for optimal comfort. You’ll see the stones become a darker color when covered in oil.

Throughout the session, the therapist will use a combination of their hands and the hot stones to massage your muscles. Most of the work will be done with the stones. While some of them will simply rest on your skin, the therapist will use others to massage your muscles and soft tissue, slowly kneading, rubbing, and turning the stones.

Turning the stones regularly helps distribute the remaining heat. Sometimes, the therapist might use different sizes of stones for different muscle groups and body parts. They may also use the edge of the stones to apply extra pressure in areas where people often feel more tension, such as the upper back and around the shoulder blades.

There may be some redness on your skin from the heat of the stones, but this is a normal reaction to heat. It’ll go away quickly.

How to Do a Heated Massage at Home

You probably don’t have a bag of basalt stones ready to heat up and use at home, but that’s all right! You can get some of the benefits of a hot stone massage at home with a heat wrap, a massage cushion, a handheld massager, or just your hands.

The main challenge with self-massage is that you’re not going to be able to reach your back, shoulders, or neck with enough leverage to relieve tension. And you definitely won’t be able to relax while you’re trying to stretch and contort your arm to reach those areas.

That’s where heated massage cushions can help. Using a massage cushion makes it possible to sit back, relax, and enjoy the kneading, pulsing massage without any effort. You can sit on a chair, lounge on the couch, or lie in bed with the massage cushion under your back.

Some massage cushions can automatically detect your height to provide deep kneading and vibrations on your entire back. The best massage cushions are also heated to help relax and soothe muscles as they massage.

A smaller heated massage pillow can offer relief to more specific areas, like your neck, shoulders, legs, or lower back. It’s a simple and portable way to enjoy a hot massage with no setup required. Meanwhile, a handheld massager can be another great way to massage specific muscle groups and body parts that are within reach. Instead of using your hands, you can use a variety of attachments that mimic different massage techniques.

Whether you’re using a neck and shoulder massager, a full back massage cushion, or a foot massager, look for a heated model for the closest thing to a hot stone massage experience at home. If you’re using a handheld massager, you can also use a heat wrap before and after the massage in place of hot stones.

Hot Stone Massage for Relaxation and Relief

A hot stone massage doesn’t just look like luxury—it feels like it, too. Whether you’re going to a professional or doing a massage at home, let the heat soothe your muscles and the massage release tension throughout your body.

To make the most of your at-home massage, explore massage cushions and wraps that feature adjustable heat settings and let go of your stress.

Medical Disclaimer: This content is provided for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. 

Sources

  1. Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury: Postgraduate Medicine: Vol 127, No 1
  2. Moist Heat or Dry Heat for DOMS – PMC
  3. Don’t Feel the Burn: Hot Stone Massage | Massage Therapy Journal