Hot stone massage, in case you aren't familiar, is a form of massage therapy that utilizes heated stones as part of treatment. It's an old-school massage technique that's been around far longer than the most inappropriate song at your middle school semi-formal. The practice of using hot stones as part of a massage is found in many early civilizations and cultures, including a 5000-year-old Ayurvedic practice known as Shila Abhyanga. It's also found in Chinese texts dating back some 2000 years.
Basically, people have been doing hot stone massage for a long time, so there's clearly something to it. But if you're a first-timer to hot stone massage and want to know what its appeal is (and, you know, its benefits), here's a quick, expert-led primer on the practice.
What happens during a hot stone massage?
Hot stone massage is...well, pretty much exactly what it sounds like. "Hot stone massages utilize flat, smooth basalt stones that are heated to a therapeutic temperature," says Shari Auth, DACM, LMT, a licensed massage therapist and the co-founder of the acupuncture studio WTHN. (Therapeutic temperature, in this case, means between 130 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, so, hot.)
Once you've stripped, the massage therapist gets to work with the heated stones. "The stones are then placed on the body and in the palms of the massage therapist’s hands," says Auth. "Hot stone massages are performed by stroking the body with the heated stones to relax the mind and loosen tight muscles."
Stroking is actually just the beginning. Throughout your hot stone massage, your body will be treated to not just strokes but circular movements, kneading, and vibration from your massage therapist. Like a typical massage, essential oils will usually be incorporated in this experience to ensure smooth sailing and extra benefits. Plus, the heat helps make the deep tissue massage experience even more enjoyable. Honestly, you and the rocks really have a thorough, intimate sensual encounter.
Tell me about hot stone massage benefits, please
Besides being nice and warming, experts say that there are a few specific benefits to enjoy from a hot stone massage.
"The hot stones have a soothing effect that can relieve chronic pain, reduce stress, [and] promote deep relaxation," says Wayne Blankenship, LMT, a licensed massage therapist at Miraval Resorts. He adds that it can also help improve flexibility in joints, relax muscle tension and pain, and even show an improvement in overall muscle tone.
There isn't a ton of research confirming all of the potential perks of hot stone massage therapy, but what's out there is promising. For example, a small 2019 study found that patients on maintenance hemodialysis (aka patients being treated for kidney failure) experienced improved sleep quality after regular hot stone massage sessions. Another small study from 2013 found that pressure therapy like hot stone massage could help relieve pain for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Massage therapy in general is also associated with lots of benefits for body and mind, including reduced stress and anxiety, reduced back pain, and increased relaxation.
It's good for more than the physical, too. "In a spiritual sense, hot stones are believed to have a quality within them that represents the core of the earth that omits a sense of grounding," adds Blankenship. With that in mind, a hot stone massage feels like a great option when you're looking to get centered and really connect with nature.
Speaking of massage, here's what it's like to get a lymphatic drainage massage:
Are there any risks or downsides to this kind of massage?
For most healthy adults, this is certainly a safe type of massage to try—so long as you do it with a legit, licensed professional. Despite the seemingly scalding hot temperatures, the basalt stones shouldn't scorch you as long as they're properly heated by a licensed massage therapist. This is not something you want to try at home. Please do not boil some perfect skipping rocks in hot water and use them on your stressed out, sleep-deprived sweetie. Second degree burns are not sexy.
However, a hot stone massage may not be the best option for those with certain health conditions or ailments. "Just like any thermal treatment, people who are sensitive to heat or temperature shouldn’t receive a hot stone massage," says Blankenship. "Additionally, anyone with untreated high blood pressure, open wounds or burns, or who is diabetic should not receive hot stone massages." If you suffer from any of those afflictions, make sure you consult with a doctor before you book your next appointment, or address any concerns with a masseuse before they get to work.
The bottom line: Hot stone massage is a good option if you're looking to mix up your massage routine or get some added relaxation time in. If you have a particular health condition, def talk it through with your doctor first before trying. Otherwise, it's time to take off your clothes!
Looking to switch up your wellness treatments? Try getting pulled and prodded during a Thai massage, or witness producer Ella Dove handle the heat with moxa sticks in a recent episode of What the Wellness.
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