With the winter months upon us and chilly days ahead, this is an opportune time to try something new, something luxuriously warm, therapeutic and deeply relaxing. Massages are a wonderful way to unwind and enjoy some time away from the pressures of life but when hot stones are added to the equation, a routine massage session is transformed to deeper dimension as the penetrating heat of the stones helps to alleviate stress; relieving muscular tension/spasms, improving circulation and nutrition to muscles, reducing congestion and creating an extraordinary feeling of cocooned warmth, comfort and relaxation. Based on the principles of hydrotherapy, the heat of the stones penetrate muscle tension at the deepest level, allowing the muscles to relax 4-5 times faster than a standard body massage with the effects lasting for up to 72 hours – calming the mind, warming the body and giving welcome relief from the effects of physical and mental stress….what’s not to love?!
What is a Hot Stone massage?
Dating back more than 2,000 years, a hot stone massage is a popular complementary therapy practised worldwide with a rich history of its therapeutic and healing purposes. The therapeutic use of stones is believed to have originated in ancient China, where heated stones were applied to improve internal organ function and assist with healing. However, it also has links with Ayurvedic (Indian), Native American, Hawaiian and Japanese massage traditions. A Hot Stone Massage uses the direct heat and pressure of warm volcanic Basalt stones that initially relax the nervous system with the soothing, comfortable heat (similar to lying in hot bath) which then slowly diffuses deep into the muscle layers, the effects lasting for many hours.
During a hot stone massage, the techniques of a regular massage are applied using a variety of stones, their shape and size determining their application to the shape of the body. By placing hot stones at key points on your body before the massage begins, the tension is alleviated before any hands on, making it easier to give an effective deep but soothing deep tissue massage. I like to use the heated stones as extensions of my hands for a deep muscle massage without having to apply too much pressure as the firmness and heat of the stones simply melt into the body. The warmed stones are surprisingly comforting and can be placed anywhere you are feeling pain or tension: think about the curve of your spine, on the backs of your thighs and calves or even on your stomach and neck.
The stones I use are typically basalt and are heated in a specialised hot stone warmer (not a slow cooker!) to a temperature of approximately 135° F. Basalt is a dark, fine-grained volcanic rock that has been smoothed by the river or sea. This type of stone is rich in iron, so it retains heat for a long period of time, making them ideal to placed at specific points on the body and/or used to help facilitate the effects of a deep tissue massage as the direct heat of the stone, typically applied with an aromatic blend of oils, allows me to sink effortlessly into areas of tension – perfect for upper body tension, lower back ache and generalised tension.
The link between Hot Stone therapy and wellbeing
Hot Stone Massage has been shown to be effective for a wide range of therapeutic uses. As heat is enormously comforting from a neurophysiological standpoint, the benefits are wide reaching, particularly with chronic pain as the heat allows access to the deeper muscle tissues which leads to greater muscle relaxation, decreased muscle spasms, increased range of motion and most importantly – reduced pain.
Hot stone massage has been shown to relieve a variety of painful conditions such as fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. 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. A 2013 study also 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.
Pain relief: Hot stone massage has specifically been associated with symptom relief in people with a variety of conditions, such as fibromyalgia and general physical aches and pains
Reducing stress hormones: Experiencing the natural smoothness and heat of the Basalt stones help to switch the fight/flight switch into ‘pause’ as the parasympathetic nervous system allows our breathing to deepen, heart rate to slow down and boosts our immune system
Decreasing muscle spasms and tension: Muscles that are tense and in spasm cause pain will eventually impact with daily life. Reducing the infalmmation and tension in the skeletal muscles eases both muscle spasms and pain. Targeted heat from hot stones helps warm your muscles for better manipulation during the massage
Sleep improvements : The long lasting effects of the treatment help to reduce stress and anxiety, promoting restful sleep by inducing alpha and theta waves (very deep relaxation)
Better immunity: A scientific study evidenced an increase in lymphocytes after a single session of Swedish massage. Lymphocytes help white blood cells fight infection in the body. Adding hot stone therapy before your Swedish massage might enhance the effectiveness of the massage to boost your infection-fighting cells.
There are a variety of treatments implementing the healing energy of hot stones as either a standalone treatment or in combination with aromatherapy, deep tissue massage, and many others on offer at reCentre Health. So, if you’re feeling tired, achey or in need of a much needed boost before the days are shorter, a hot stone massage may be your much needed rock!
Impact of hot stone massage therapy on sleep quality in patients on maintenance hemodialysis: A randomized controlled trial: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6734672/
Rheumatoid arthritis in upper limbs benefits from moderate pressure massage therapy: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23561068/
Adults Demonstrate Modified Immune Response After Receiving Massage, Cedars-Sinai Researchers Show: https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/adults-demonstrate-modified-immune-response-after-receiving-massage-cedars-sinai-researchers-show/