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What is Hot Stone Massage and What are Its Benefits?

What is Hot Stone Massage?

Hot stone massage is a very relaxing and therapeutic massage in which heated stones are used to administer standard Swedish massage techniques. Ancient civilizations all over were known to have used heated stones for medicinal purposes, but those were warmed over a direct flame. Today’s hot stone technique was invented by Mary Nelson of Tucson, Arizona and uses stones heated in water ranging from 120-150 degrees Fahrenheit. The stones used in hot stone massage are smooth, black volcanic basalt rocks because of their ability to absorb and retain heat for extended periods of time.

Hot stone massage is a profoundly relaxing, comforting, and peaceful experience. While the stones are used to press, manipulate, and knead the soft tissues, the heat from them almost immediately releases tension from every muscle, tendon, and ligament. Although warm stones are usually used, areas that are inflamed, injured, or swollen are often treated with cold stones instead. Often times throughout the treatment, the stones are placed on key points along the spine and other strategic spots on the body such as the palms, behind the knees, on the stomach, or between the toes to encourage optimal energy flow throughout the entire body.

Hot stone massage being performed on a person's back

5 Benefits of Hot Stone Massage

The benefits of hot stone massage come in many forms as it encourages relaxation of the deeper muscles, reduces stress and calms the mind, expels toxins, alleviates pain, and improves circulation. Quite fittingly, there is an impressive list of ailments that can be treated by a hot stone massage:

1. Aches and pains in the muscles from injury, stress, overuse or poor posture

Heat is quite effective in easing muscle tension and pains as it helps blood flow to the affected area more easily. Reversely, cold treatments help to relieve inflammation. Depending on your symptoms, you may want to alternate hot and cold stones during your treatment.

2. Autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, and Rheumatoid Arthritis

The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine has long been studying the health benefits of massage therapy and some of their focus has been on the effects of massage on autoimmune diseases. Their studies showed that massage suppresses both interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-a (TNF-a) which are cytokines common to all autoimmune diseases that increase inflammation and overstimulate the immune system. For people with multiple sclerosis, massage improved balance, walking speed, and body function. For people with rheumatoid arthritis, massage improved grip strength and increased the range of motion with joints. And for those with fibromyalgia, massage lowered stiffness, fatigue, and cortisol levels, also while improving sleep. In all cases, levels of anxiety, depression, and pain were lowered as well.

3. Eases insomnia and promotes sleep

Massage has long been known to help induce more restorative sleep, although the exact reasons as to why aren’t completely understood. The warmth from the hot stones only serves to deepen that effect.

4. Reduces anxiety, nervousness, and depression

All three of these conditions are linked to one thing: stress. Stress is the number one cause of all deaths and diseases so it’s imperative to take time to relax your mind and body often. Hot stone massage does just that and research by the American Massage Therapy Association supports that claim.

5. Circulatory issues

Poor circulation isn’t necessarily a condition in itself, but often is a direct result of other health issues such as diabetes, obesity, and adverse heart conditions. However, less threatening issues like inflammation and muscle tension can also cause poor circulation and lead to pain, discomfort, and cramping. Hot stone massage releases tension held in the muscles to allow blood to flow freely and relieve and problems due to the lack of circulation.

Hot stone massage is often a little more expensive than any other massage therapies because the sessions are generally longer and more time is needed to set up beforehand and clean up afterward, but it’s completely worth it if you are considering getting one.

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