As the evenings start to be chilly and the longing for warmth starts to call, a hot stone massage is just the thing. As the name suggests, it is simply massage with hot stones, but what does this now ubiquitous treatment do?

What is it good for?

  • Reduced tension in muscles
  • Reduced muscle pain
  • Improved range of movement
  • A more intense massage
  • Better circulation
  • Reduced stress and tension
  • Relief from pain associated with fibromyalgia, period pains or carpal tunnel.

What happens in a session?

Once you have gone through the usual health questionnaire, you will undress and be asked to lie down on your front. The massage is similar to a Swedish massage treatment, using oil with long flowing strokes at first, followed by work to the deeper layer of muscles. In hot stone, the stones are used as an extension of the therapist's hands to stretch out the muscles and help the muscle fibres glide smoothly against one another.

The stones are sterilised and heated in water in a special pot so the temperature can be accurately gauged. Usually basalt river stones, the heat softens the tension in your muscles so that the massage is able to release deeper layers of tension in the time available.

The stones are also be placed to warm problem prone areas like the sacrum, or on energy points on your body, which has a more subtle effect. One of the most weirdly comforting things is to have warm pebbles placed between your toes, brilliant for chilly autumn feet. The heat should never be a test of endurance and you are expected to give feedback on the temperature; this is no place to be a hero.

Where there is inflammation the hot stones are replaced by cool, or room temperature stones, which act in the same way as a cold pack. They are also great for cross fibre and trigger point work.

If you like the stones, but want a lighter treatment then there are therapists who use shells in place of stones, which has the same earthly contact but with a more sensitive touch.

Who should go?

Hot stone is particularly suited to people with strong constitutions; if you like an intense massage and flourish in heat, this will be your thing. It can be the best and worst of massages. With a skilled therapist the heat will sink deep into your body to let everything soften and let go. If your therapist is less adept it can be like being a shirt on an ironing board.

Who should stay away?

For those with a delicate disposition, for whatever reason, hot stone may be too much for you. If you have any condition that worsens with heat like rosacea, acne or flushes, you won't want to go anyway. There are other conditions that would make hot stone unsafe, for example;

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Varicose veins

Where does it originate?

American Indian, Hawaiian and Ayurvedic healing practices all use stones to warm and heal the body. The popularity of hot stone in the West was the work of Mary Nelson of Tucson who drew on the American Indian tradition.