What Are the Health Benefits of a Hot Stone Massage?

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on November 16, 2016Written by Annette McDermott

hot stone massage

What happens during a hot stone massage?

A hot stone massage is a type of massage therapy. It’s used to help you relax and ease tense muscles and damaged soft tissues throughout your body.

During a hot stone massage, smooth, flat, heated stones are placed on specific parts of your body. The stones are usually made of basalt, a type of volcanic rock that retains heat. According to the University of New Hampshire Health Services, hot massage stones are heated to between 130 and 145 degrees.

The stones may be placed:

  • along your spine
  • on your stomach
  • on your chest
  • on your face
  • on your palms
  • on your feet and toes

Massage therapists may hold heated stones as they massage your body using Swedish massage techniques such as:

  • long strokes
  • circular movements
  • vibration
  • tapping
  • kneading

Sometimes, cold stones are also used during a hot stone massage. Cold stones may be used after hot stones to calm any engorged blood vessels and to soothe the skin.

6 benefits of hot stone massage

All massages generally fall under the alternative medicine umbrella. They’re becoming a popular complementary therapy for many conditions. Here are some advantages of getting a hot stone massage:

1. Helps relieve muscle tension and pain

Heat has long been used to ease muscle tension and pain. It helps increase blood flow to the affected area. It may also reduce muscle spasms and increase flexibility and range of motion. Cold therapy helps relieve inflammation. Depending on your symptoms, alternating hot and cold stones during your massage may be helpful.

2. Reduces stress and anxiety

It’s the position of the American Massage Therapy Association that “massage therapy can be effective for stress relief.” Research supports their opinion. A 2001 study showed that a ten-minute massage improved cardiovascular responses such as stroke volume. A 1997 study found that 15-minute, onsite chair massages in the workplace significantly reduced stress compared to a 15-minute break without massage.

A 2015 study found that people who underwent abdominal colorectal surgery had less pain, tension, and anxiety after receiving post-operative massage.

3. Promotes sleep

A 2006 literature review found massage may be an alternative to sleeping pills in adults with insomnia. The research showed that back massage helped promote relaxation and sleep. A 2001 study showed that infants with sleep problems who were given a 15-minute massage by their parents went to sleep faster. They were also more alert, active, and positive upon awakening. Massage is thought to help you enjoy more restorative sleep, although it’s not completely understood why.

4. May help relieve symptoms of autoimmune diseases

Hot stone massage may relieve painful conditions such as fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread, chronic pain. According to a 2002 study, people with fibromyalgia who received a 30-minute massage slept longer, had fewer trigger points, and had decreased levels of substance P (a substance involved in transmitting pain signals) than people with the condition who received relaxation therapy. More research is needed, however, before massage becomes a standard fibromyalgia treatment.

A 2013 study found that people with rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from a moderate-pressure massage, such as hot stone massage. Participants in the study experienced less pain, greater grip strength, and a greater range of motion after one month of massage therapy.

5. May help decrease cancer symptoms

A large, three-year study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management examined how massage affected pain, fatigue, stress and anxiety, nausea, and depression in 1,290 people with cancer. The study showed massage, especially Swedish massage, improved cancer symptoms, even in those with substantial symptoms. Researchers believe the comforting use of human touch played a role.

6. May boost immunity

Massage may give your immune system a boost. According to a 2010 study, a single session of Swedish massage therapy had a positive and acute impact on immunity. Blood samples taken before and after the massage showed a decrease in arginine-vasopressin, a hormone that helps regulate blood pressure and water retention.

Who may benefit from a hot stone massage?

Anyone who is experiencing muscle tension and pain, insomnia, or stress may benefit from a hot stone massage. If you have a chronic condition that causes pain, talk to your doctor to see if a hot stone massage is a good option for you.

Risks and warnings

When performed by a trained therapist, a hot stone massage is generally safe. There are some circumstances where it should be avoided. Consult your doctor before getting a massage if you have:

  • a bleeding disorder or take blood thinners
  • burns on your skin
  • open wounds
  • a history of blood clots
  • had surgery in the last 6 weeks
  • a fracture or severe osteoporosis
  • a low platelet count (thrombocytopenia)
  • diabetes

A prenatal massage may help relieve stress and ease uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms. Still, most massage therapists won’t use hot stones on pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, you should only get a massage with your doctor’s approval, and under the hands of a trained prenatal massage therapist.

To prevent burns, there should always be a barrier, such as a towel or sheet, between hot massage stones and your skin. Check with your therapist to see how they heat the stones. A professional massage stone heater should be used. Never use stones that have been heated with a:

  • microwave
  • slow cooker
  • hot plate
  • oven

The bottom line

Studies show that a hot stone massage may be a helpful way to reduce stress and anxiety, promote relaxation, and ease pain and muscle tension. It may be helpful for a variety of conditions and circumstances.

More study is needed to find out exactly why massage therapy has such a powerful impact. It may have a lot to do with human touch. For many people, touch offers a sense of connection and security.

To make sure you have a positive hot stone massage experience, only use a massage therapist trained to work with hot stones. You may feel sore during your massage or the day after. This may be due to deep tissue manipulation and pressure. You shouldn’t feel pain. If you are uncomfortable or experience pain during your massage, let your massage therapist know right away.

Keep reading: 5 tips for easing upper back pain during pregnancy »

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