Hot stone massage is a specialty massage where the therapist uses smooth, heated stones, either as an extension of their own hands, or by placing them on the body while they massage other parts of the body. The heat can be both deeply relaxing and help warm up tight muscles so the therapist can work more deeply, more quickly. Watch a video of a hot stone massage.
The Origins of Hot Stone Massage
Hot stones warmed by fire were used by Native Americans to treat aching muscles, but the modern revival of hot stones in massage is generally credited to Mary Nelson, a native of Tucson, Arizona. She trademarked her style of hot stone massage, called LaStone Therapy, which has a Native American spiritual component and requires training and certification.
Most spas offer their own versions of hot stone massage (they might call it lava stone massage, river rock massage, warm stone massage and so on.) A hot stone massage, however, takes a lot of skill and sensitivity on the part of the therapist. One of my most memorable spa treatments was a hot stone massage. So was one of my worst. The therapist lacked finesse and I felt like an ironing board.
How To Get A Great Hot Stone Massage
The quality of the treatment depends on how well the therapist has been trained, how skilled he or she is, and whether he or she enjoys doing the treatment. Some therapists don't like to do it because the hot stones are difficult to handle.
Even a terrific massage therapist can be so-so at hot stone. My best suggestion for making sure you get a great hot stone massage is to get a LaStone Therapy, because you know the therapist has been well-trained and has made a serious investment in training. You can also ask where the therapist learned hot stone massage, and how long he or she has been doing it.
Another approach is to ask the front desk if there is someone who is a specialist in hot stone massage. Some massage therapists love doing this treatment, while others aren't so hot on it. A good front desk will know which therapist to direct you to.
This is also a treatment where you're counting on the spa and the therapist to be impeccable with sanitation, because those stones have been on someone else's body. I wouldn't get it at anything that looks like a discount spa.
What Happens During a Hot Stone Massage?
Before you arrive, the massage therapist sanitizes the stones and heats them in bath of 120 to 150 degree water. The stones themselves are usually basalt, a black volcanic rock that absorbs and retains heat well, and have been smoothed by natural forces in the river or sea.
You usually start face down, with the therapist working on your back. First, the therapist warms up the body with traditional Swedish massage, then massages you while holding a heated stone. As the stone cools, the therapist replaces it with another. The therapist uses many stones of various shapes and sizes -- big ones on the big muscles, smaller ones on smaller muscles.
The therapist might also leave heated stones in specific points along your spine, in the palms of your hand, on your belly, or even between your toes to improve the flow of energy in your body. Many therapists believe that the stones themselves have an energetic charge and that needs to be maintained by placing them in a spiral pattern, placing them in a full moon periodically.
Be sure to speak up if the stones are too warm or the pressure too intense. And you can always ask them to stop using the stones if you don't like how it feels.
If you like heat but not the stones, lava shells and steamed towels are another way to get heat into a massage.
How Much Does a Hot Stone Massage Cost?
A hot stone massage is more expensive than a basic Swedish massage because it requires more preparation and clean-up and usually runs longer. A typical hot stone massage is $125-$150, but the price can go higher, especially at a resort or hotel spa.
Who Shouldn't Get Hot Stone Massage??
Hot Stone massage is not appropriate if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or are on medication that thins your blood. You shouldn't get a hot stone massage if you are pregnant or have a sunburn. You also may want to reconsider if you are menopausal, as it may trigger a hot flash.