The practice of massage with hot stones is an ancient and revered treatment.
Indigenous cultures have applied magnesium and iron-rich basalt stones to the back, arms, chest and stomach to assist with pain and disease for hundreds of years.
Currently a popular and blissfully effective treatment – used in almost all spas and clinics – hot-stone massage has long been considered a powerful tool in sacred healing ceremonies. Traditional Medicine People applied hot stones to specific areas of the body to alleviate physical discomfort and heal the mind and spirit.
Originally, stones were heated in specially made fire pits before they were brought forward to be applied in treatment. The fire acted as a catalyst, activating the mineral magnetism of certain stones to interact with the bioelectricity of our bodies.
Indigenous cultures liken this therapy to a spiritual cleansing – anyone holding rock-hard emotional tension in the muscles of their neck, jaw and shoulders is likely to voice euphoric agreement.
During a hot stone massage, smooth, flat, heated stones are placed alongyour spine, stomach, chest, face, palms, feet and toes – depending on the practitioner. The stones are usually made of basalt – a dark, fine-grained volcanic rock. Massage stone are heated in water that is approximately 110 degrees Fahrenheit /43 degrees Celsius.
In the Alternative Medicine/Indigenous Studies reference, The Science of the Sacred, naturopathic doctor, Nicole Redvers notes that “neck tension can cause the shoulders to migrate in the direction of the ears (causing a rounding of the upper back) which can cause headaches at the base of the skull …. An unconscious tension in the jaw… this demonstrates an unconscious activation of the sympathetic nervous system…
A hot stone massage helps relax these muscles, sooth damaged soft tissue and preserve the natural integrity of our skeletal alignment.
This is a form of heat therapy, or thermotherapy – the application of warmth to the body to alleviate pain and promote healing. A treatment helpful for those with arthritis, stiff muscles and injuries to deep tissue. It is effective because it widens the blood vessels and relaxes the smooth muscle cells within vessel walls. This is called ‘vasodilation’, it is especially beneficial when working with large veins and arteries.
According to The Somatic Arts and Sciences Institute, “These therapeutic effects include increasing the extensibility of collagen tissues; decreasing joint stiffness; reducing pain; relieving muscle spasms; reducing inflammation, edema, and aids in the post-acute phase of healing; and increasing blood flow. The increased blood flow to the affected area provides proteins, nutrients, and oxygen for better healing.
Heat therapy is useful for muscle spasms, myalgia, fibromyalgia and bursitis.”
Forms of heat therapy are a recommended for treatment of migraines and headaches as these conditions are often caused by problems in the upper back and neck regions. Warming this area can release tension, and stones along the spine and can provide a lot of relief. Massage therapists may hold the heated stones as they massage your body using long strokes, circular movements, vibration, tapping and kneading.
As hot stones increase the temperature of the skin and improve circulation – the nervous system returns to a calmer state. Massage is thought to produce biochemical changes, increasing neural activity at the spinal cord level – possibly affecting pain perception and mood. Therefore, warm massage therapy could potentially decrease pain, anxiety, and depression by increasing serotonin and endorphin levels.
In the abstract: “Impact of Hot Stone Massage Therapy”, published with the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, patients receiving hemodialysis treatments (a cleansing of the blood) were observed to suffer from sleep disorders including depression, anxiety and decreased quality of life.
The study found the sleep quality of patients receiving massage with hot-stones (placed at the fifth, fourth, third, second, and first chakras – the torso of the body, from throat to hips) was significantly higher than those who had not. Suggesting this form of complementary therapy may increase the likelihood of a deep, restorative slumber.
As always, it is important to seek advice from a wellness practitioner about any condition you may have, before experimenting with new treatments.