Your Guide to Hot Stone Massage Therapy: Which Stones are Best?
- May 11, 2018
- Posted by: massageceu
- Category: massage therapy courses
As a massage therapist, you’re always looking to broaden your knowledge base and add another technique to your toolkit. Whether it’s sports massage, chair massage, or any number of other approaches to bodywork, there are lots of options out there when it comes to massage therapy courses. While you were in school for massage, you probably learned at least a little bit about hot stone massage therapy. Depending on which program you attended, you may have even learned a significant amount about this treatment modality. If so, you’re probably already quite confident in your ability to offer hot stone therapy for those clients with conditions that might benefit from it.
More often than not, though, hot stone massage is something that massage therapists are only familiar with on a basic level. Sure, you can use the technique to help clients relax — but couldn’t you be getting more out of it? You know that there’s more to hot stones than just helping clients unwind, but you’re not confident enough in your knowledge to take the next step and integrate hot stones into a big picture treatment plan.
If this is how you’re feeling, you’re not alone. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to hot stone massage therapy. In this guide, we’ll touch on a number of topics related to hot stone massage, including:
- What is hot stone massage therapy?
- The history of hot stone usage
- How stones can allow heat to penetrate deeper into musculature
- Giving your hands a break
- Reducing pain for clients
- The best stones for hot stone massage
- Massage therapy courses for hot stone techniques
One of the biggest questions that massage therapists tend to ask when it comes to this modality is, “Which stones should I use?” We’ll answer that question below. But first, let’s learn more about hot stone therapy as a whole. What is it? How does it work? How can it help your clients?
Ready to find out? Let’s get started.
What Is Hot Stone Massage?
Simply put, hot stone massage involves the application of smooth, flat stones to a client’s body as part of an overall treatment strategy. The stones are often heated, although cold stone massage therapy is also used in certain instances. It’s not uncommon for a practitioner to blend these two techniques together, alternating thermotherapy and cryotherapy.
Generally speaking, stones are used in a couple of ways with clients:
- In some cases, stones are placed on top of a client while they’re lying in a prone or supine position. Clients might also be positioned on top of stones, depending on what sort of therapeutic effect is sought. The heat from the stones is then transferred into the client’s musculature, working in combination with pressure exerted from the weight of the stones (or from the weight of the client’s body on the stones, in certain instances).
- Alternatively, stones can be used as a massage tool by a trained therapist. Using stones in this way can cut down on practitioner fatigue, as the stones can act as an effective means of transferring force into a client’s musculature. We’ll discuss this potential advantage of massage in a separate section below.
Hot stone techniques can work according to a wide variety of both physiological and “energetic” systems, depending on which massage tradition you’re adhering to. From an energetic standpoint, many massage therapists use hot stones in order to activate a client’s meridians and channels (in connection with traditional Chinese medicine) or chakras (as references in Ayurvedic medicine). For other massage therapists, hot stones are intended to target a client’s muscular, lymphatic, and/or central nervous systems.
Of course, these physiological and energetic approaches don’t have to be mutually exclusive: in some cases, a therapist might intend for hot stones to serve both physiological and energetic purposes. It all comes down to the intention and treatment goals of the individual therapist.
Now that we know a little bit more about what exactly hot stone massage is and how it works, let’s move on to the history of the modality.
The History of Hot Stone Therapy
Hot stone massage is old. And we mean really, really old. Some sources claim that various forms of hot stone treatment were used in the ancient Mayan civilization. More verifiably, though, we can say for certain that the practice goes back at least 5,000 years to the earliest records of the Ayurvedic Indian tradition.
According to Ayurvedic medicine, the human body is imbued with something called “prana,” which translates roughly as “life-breath.” This is not unlike the “qi” energy referred to in classical Chinese medicine. Traditionally, Ayurvedic yogis would use a variety of techniques to harness, redirect, and correct the flow of prana in the body, including breathing, physical movements, and massage. In addition to physical manipulation by hand, these yogis would also use natural objects as part of their approach to healing. This is where hot stones come in: yogis would use them to access the prana in the body, sometimes in combination with specific chakras.
Of course, hot stones weren’t limited to India or the Mayan civilization. They show up throughout history in other cultures as well, including various Native American tribes, ancient Greece and Rome, Africa, and China. To learn more about the history of hot stone massage, we’d recommend taking a massage therapy course specifically focused on this technique.
Heat Penetration and Saving Your Hands
As mentioned above, hot stone massage is particularly useful for accomplishing to specific goals: introducing therapeutic heat into a client’s body and cutting down on fatigue for massage therapists. Let’s take a close look at how this works.
There are all sorts of ways to introduce heat into a client’s body. Some massage therapists will use a heated massage table for a diffuse, full-body warming effect. Others prefer to use heating pads, hot water bottles, or even warm towels.
That said, there’s something particularly effective and unique about using hot stones for heat application. There are a couple of reasons why stones can be particularly effective when it comes to warming up a client’s musculature. First of all, the physical weight of the stones helps direct the heat into the client’s musculature. By simply laying stones on a client’s back for instance, the weight of the stone will conduct heat down into the client’s musculature more effectively than simply laying a heating pad on the client without any downward pressure. The weight of the rock can also be calming and relaxing for clients, resulting in a reduction of anxiety and a sense of greater security on the massage table.
On top of this, the heat from stones tends to offer deeper penetration into a client’s musculature than other forms of heat therapy. Many therapists report better results from hot stones than from heating pads or warm towels.
Additionally — and, in the long run, just as importantly — hot stones are a great way of reducing strain and fatigue for massage therapists.
If you’ve been a bodywork professional for some time, you know how tiring the job can be. There’s no doubt that it’s a great occupation; but, let’s face it: giving massages is tiring. Even with the proper body mechanics and techniques in place, there’s no getting around the fact that giving massages will wear you out.
Over time, repetitive activities such as deep tissue massage can cause strain and general wear and tear for a massage therapist’s hands, fingers, wrists, arms, shoulders, and joints. So, whenever the opportunity presents itself to reduce the amount of physical work you have to perform while achieving the same (or better) results, it’s generally a good idea to take advantage of it.
Hot stones are a great way to perform specific techniques which can be particularly exhausting for bodyworkers. Trigger point therapy is a great example. While performing trigger point therapy with your fingers is extremely taxing, using a stone can take the strain off of your fingers and hands.
Pain Reduction for Clients
At the end of the day, the vast majority of massage clients come to you because they’re experiencing some sort of pain. Whether it’s minor physical discomfort accompanied by stress, an acute injury to a specific body part, or chronic pain in their shoulders, neck, or back, most clients come in for a massage because they’re looking for pain reduction.
For this reason, it’s important to implement techniques in your practice that can effectively reduce pain for clients. Fortunately, hot stone massage therapy is an excellent way to reduce pain.
Hot stones can be incredibly effective for strains, sprains, muscular issues, and more. Many clients come in experiencing acute levels of pain, and that can make it incredibly difficult to perform deep tissue techniques. These clients may need massage work that results in deep penetration into muscle tissue, but deep tissue massage is so painful that they simply can’t (or won’t) stand for it.
In these sorts of situations, hot stone massage can be a life saver. By using the heat transferring and deep penetration effects of stones, it’s possible to offer clients significant pain relief without the discomfort often associated with deep tissue massage.
Additionally, the relief that clients feel will usually be accompanied by a reduction in stress and a greater sense of relaxation. Hot stones tend to have that effect on clients. As a result, they’ll be more likely to come back for another appointment (and another, and another).
Which Hot Stones Are Best for Hot Stone Massage?
With all of this in mind, you’re ready to start using stones as part of your standard approach to a treatment strategy. There’s just one (big) lingering question: what kind of stones should you use?
If you run an internet search for massage stones, you’ll turn up all sorts of results. It can be a bit confusing to know which stones are best suited for what, and what exactly makes a “quality” stone.
There are three types of stones often used for hot stone massage:
- Igneous rocks
- Sedimentary rocks
- Metamorphic rocks
What’s the difference between these three?
Igneous rocks are formed as a result of volcanic activity. When magma from a volcano cools into basalt, it’s considered to be an igneous rock.
Sedimentary rocks are formed over extremely long periods of time, as small bits and pieces of earth are compacted and compressed into solid rock.
Metamorphic rocks start out as either igneous or sedimentary rocks. Over time, extreme heat and pressure underground cause them to “morph” into a new type of rock.
So, which stones are best for hot stone massage?
Igneous rocks such as basalt tend to be the most commonly used by massage therapists. Metamorphic rocks are a close second. This is due to the fact that both igneous and metamorphic rocks typically contain significant amounts of iron ore. When heated, their high iron content allows them to stay warm for long periods of time. Of the two, basalt (igneous rock) tends to hold heat better than metamorphic rock, and it’s also usually smoother.
Some therapists do prefer to use sedimentary rocks such as marine stones, sandstone, or limestone. This is due to their mineral properties, which some therapists believe to confer extra benefits on clients.
Generally speaking, though, the best choice of stone for hot stone massage therapy is basalt.
Hot Stone Massage Therapy Course
You’ve learned a lot about hot stone massage, and you’re itching to put your new knowledge into practice. However, there’s still a lot more to learn. If you’d like to make hot stone techniques a part of your everyday practice, we highly recommend the Panda™ Hot Stone Massage Therapy Course.
In this course, you’ll learn to:
- Understand the history of hot stone massage in greater detail
- Identify the benefits of hot stone massage for clients
- Recognize both indications and contraindications
- Bend thermotherapy and cryotherapy with hot stones
- Perform a full sequence of hot stone massage techniques
At Panda, we pride ourselves on offering the best online massage CEU courses available anywhere. Our affordable prices, professional narration, quality content, and course variety are second to none. To learn more about what Panda has to offer, click here.