Heat has been used for centuries to alleviate pain Journal of Education, Health, and Sport “Hot stone massage therapy—mechanisms of the influence on the human organism of selected methods of use” View Source . People used hot stones to relieve period cramps, steam baths to forget about their troubles, and hot beverages to help them fall asleep. There’s just something about warmth that helps us feel relaxed, supported, and replenished.
This is true when it comes to massages, too—those treatments with heated stones that many massage studios offer can make a big difference. (Yes, even if it adds an extra cost to an already-pricey treatment.)
Here’s what you can expect during your hot stone massage—and the benefits this type of therapy can have on your mind and body.
What is a Hot Stone Massage?
A hot stone massage is exactly what it sounds like: a massage therapist uses heated rocks to work on your tired muscles and release tension in your body. They’re typically black flat river or volcanic rocks that have a smooth surface and hold onto heat well.
Before the massage, your therapist will heat the stones up in temperature-controlled water. (If you see them use a microwave or slow cooker, walk away American Massage Therapy Association “(Don’t) Feel the Burn: Hot Stone Massage” View Source —this inconsistent heat can make the stone burning hot in some places and icy cold in others.)
The stones should reach a temperature between 110 and 145° Fahrenheit so they don’t burn your skin.
Some massage therapists will place a protective layer like a sheet or towel between your skin and the rocks to prevent injury. The therapist will place the hot stones along your spine, but depending on the kind of massage you’ve requested, they can also be used on your chest, arms, legs, feet, or face. The stones are used to heat and loosen up your muscles. After a little while, the massage therapist will use massage oil and the slightly cooled-down stones to rub your sore areas.
A hot stone massage is often combined with a Swedish massage WebMD “What Is Swedish Massage?” View Source or deep tissue work that either precedes or follows the hot stone treatment. The whole treatment will usually last between 60 and 90 minutes.
What Are The Benefits of Getting a Hot Stone Massage?
The benefits of massage therapy in general are plentiful. There’s evidence showing that it may reduce anxiety Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice “Effect of massage therapy on pain, anxiety, relaxation, and tension after colorectal surgery: A randomized study” View Source and stress Perceptual and Motor Skills “Massage therapy as a workplace intervention for reduction of stress” View Source and improve sleep. There’s limited research on how massage therapy can boost immunity, relieve symptoms of autoimmune diseases Journal of Clinical Rheumatology “Fibromyalgia Pain and Substance P Decrease and Sleep Improves After Massage Therapy” View Source , and help minimize some cancer symptoms Journal of Pain and Symptom Management “Massage therapy for symptom control: outcome study at a major cancer center” View Source .
The biggest benefit of a hot stone massage is, duh, the heat. Heat can help your muscles relax and increase the benefits you feel from the whole massage. This doesn’t mean you won’t feel great or get benefits with a regular deep tissue or Swedish massage—the hot stones can just help make the treatment even better.
Here are some of the biggest benefits of getting a hot stone massage:
1. Relaxes Your Muscles and Relieves Pain
Any kind of massage therapy is intended to help with muscle pain. Add some hot rocks into the mix, and you may be able to relax even more Journal of Education, Health, and Sport “Hot stone massage therapy - mechanisms of the influence on the human organism of selected methods of use” View Source .
When you apply heat Johns Hopkins Medicine “Ice Packs vs. Warm Compresses For Pain” View Source , blood vessels expand, which increases circulation in the affected areas. This can help reduce muscle spasms and increase the general health of the tissues.
2. Reduces Anxiety and Stress
Heat treatment has been used in a variety of studies that looked at methods for calming anxiety. One study found that using a heat pack before surgery significantly calmed patients’ anxiety Psychology, Health & Medicine “Relaxation with heat and procedural information to diminish anxiety in presurgical patients of hernia surgery” View Source .
Warmth has a relaxing effect on both our bodies and our minds. It’s the reason why sitting in a hot tub or taking a hot bubble bath feels so good when you feel stressed out. If you’ve ever tried it after a long, exhausting day, you know, that surrounding your body with heat can melt the stress away.
3. Flushes Waste Out of Your System
Some massage therapists will use lymphatic drainage massage techniques. (This is an option you can select or ask for—it shouldn’t be a surprise.) Lymphatic drainage involves applying pressure in certain areas on the body to increase the flow of lymph National Cancer Institute “Lymphatic Fluid” View Source , which is clear fluid that flows from the lymphatic system and carries cells that fight infection. This may assist the body in flushing waste out more efficiently.
But even if your massage therapist isn’t schooled in the art of lymphatic drainage, the hot stones may still help your body process waste. This is because heat widens your blood vessels Britannica “Why Does Heat Relax Your Muscles?” View Source and allows your blood to quickly transport them—or excess lactic acid from your latest workout—out of your system.
The Nessie Tip:
Hot stones aren’t the best option if your muscles are inflamed! In that case, ice (or cold stones) will be the better option. Be honest with your massage therapist about any injuries you have and describe the kind of pain you’re feeling so they can be sure they’re giving you the right treatment.
4. Helps You Sleep Better
When you’re relaxed, you’ll sleep better. One study on hot stone massage therapy found that people experienced better sleep quality Journal of Research in Medical Sciences “Impact of hot stone massage therapy on sleep quality in patients on maintenance hemodialysis: A randomized controlled trial” View Source after the treatment.
Before You Get Your Hot Stone Massage
A Few Things to Know
Generally speaking, hot stone massages are safe for all adults. However, if you have a preexisting health condition like an infection, injury, or heart condition, the heat of the stones may exacerbate your symptoms. You may also want to avoid hot stone massage if you have high or low blood pressure or are taking blood-thinning medication.
The same applies when you’re pregnant. Massage is generally safe when you’re expecting UT Southwestern Medical Center “Is Massage Safe During Pregnancy?” View Source , but hot stone or deep tissue massages may dislodge existing blood clots which are more common in pregnant people CDC “Pregnant? Don't Overlook Blood Clots” View Source .
As always, if you’re unsure about a treatment, discuss it with your healthcare provider.
How Much Does a Hot Stone Massage Cost?
Hot stone massages cost between $60 and $150, depending on how long the treatment is, where you live, and what kind of additional services you’re receiving. It’s usually offered as an add-on to a standard massage.
It may also come with (or you may have the option to add) additional services like aromatherapy, foot massages, or sugar scrubs.
The Nessie Tip:
Don’t forget to tip your massage therapist. The standard is 20%, so if your massage costs $60 plan to tip roughly $12. If your massage costs $150, tip your therapist $30. That said, your massage therapist may be making an hourly wage, not one based on the cost of the massage. If that’s the case, it may be better to give a flat $20.
How to Prepare For Your Hot Stone Massage
Drink water before your massage Hackensack Meridian Health “Why Do Massage Therapists Always Tell Me to Drink Water?” View Source . It’s easier for massage therapists to work with hydrated muscles than dry ones. A hot stone massage will heat up your body even more than usual, so it’s crucial that you’ve had enough water before the treatment.
If it’s your first time at the spa or your first time with a massage therapist ever, communication is key! Tell your massage therapist if there’s anything that you’re uncomfortable with. It may also be helpful to write down some questions you have and arrive to the appointment on the early side so you have time to ask your questions. Once they’re out of the way, you can fully relax your mind during the treatment.
How to Care For Your Body After A Massage
After the hot stone massage, you need to hydrate your body again. Some massage therapists will hand you a glass or bottle of water after the treatment, but be sure to continue getting fluids for the rest of the day.
Make sure to avoid any strenuous activities for the rest of the day and go to bed early so you can reap the full benefits of this amazing treatment. You might just feel like a new person the next day!
Disadvantages of a Hot Stone Massage
Some potential side effects of hot stone massages are dizziness and soreness. You may feel dizzy after a hot stone massage because of the increased blood circulation in your body. Sit down and drink more water if you’re feeling that way. There’s also a chance you’ll feel slightly sore that day or the next. That feeling should fade within 48 hours, though. (If it doesn’t, get in touch with your massage therapist or a doctor.)
Hot Stone Vs. Swedish Massage Vs. Deep Tissue
A hot stone massage is usually part of a package and mixed with a Swedish-style massage. The Swedish massage technique is characterized by long strokes and gentle pressure application. A deep tissue massage, on the other hand, may be a bit more painful. The massage therapist will apply more force and work specific areas to help work out chronic issues and tightness.
- Hot stones have been used for centuries to alleviate muscle pain: “Hot stone massage therapy – mechanisms of the influence on the human organism of selected methods of use,” Journal of Education, Health and Sport (May 2018).
- Hot stones should never be heated with a microwave or slow cooker: “(Don’t) Feel the Burn: Hot Stone Massage,” AMTA (September 2010).
- Heat treatment can increase blood flow and help with muscle spasms: “Ice Packs vs. Warm Compresses For Pain,” Johns Hopkins Medicine.
- Massage therapy can reduce anxiety: “Effect of massage therapy on pain, anxiety, relaxation, and tension after colorectal surgery: A randomized study,” Complementary therapies in clinical practice (August 2015).
- Massage therapy can reduce stress: “Massage therapy as a workplace intervention for reduction of stress,” Perceptual and motor skills (February 1997).
- Heat treatment can reduce anxiety: “Relaxation with heat and procedural information to diminish anxiety in presurgical patients of hernia surgery,” Psychology, health & medicine (October 2020).
- Lymphatic drainage massage fact sheet: “How to perform a lymphatic drainage massage,” Medical News Today (March 2021).
- Heat widens your blood vessels and can flush toxins out of your body: “Why Does Heat Relax Your Muscles?” Encyclopædia Britannica (August 2016).
- Massages can promote better sleep: “Rückenmassage und verwandte Techniken zur Förderung des Schlafes bei älteren Menschen: Eine Literaturanalyse,” Pflege (March 2013).
- Hot stone massage therapy can enhance sleep quality: “Impact of hot stone massage therapy on sleep quality in patients on maintenance hemodialysis: A randomized controlled trial,” Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences (August 2019).
- Massage therapy may relieve symptoms of autoimmune diseases: “Fibromyalgia Pain and Substance P Decrease and Sleep Improves After Massage Therapy,” Journal of Clinical Rheumatology (April 2002).
- Some massage may decrease cancer symptoms: “Massage therapy for symptom control: outcome study at a major cancer center,” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management (September 2004).
- Massage during pregnancy can be dangerous to mother and baby: “Pregnancy Massage,” WebMD (February 2021).
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