Monday, February 21, 2011

Massage Monday Number Four: Hot Stone Therapy

If you are a person who likes heat, or if heat relaxes you then hot stone massage is for you. It basically is a relaxation massage performed with rocks in the therapist's hands. Sounds uncomfy? Just wait, I'll explain and you may change your mind. For those of you who have had one, you probably don't need convincing that hot stone massage is the best thing ever!
Hot stone massage is done in a massage room that is a bit warmer than normal. Your therapist will probably also cover you up with not only the sheet, but a nice fluffy blanket as well. The massage starts out as any other massage does with the therapist using various techniques with their hands only, but as the tissue becomes warmed up the therapist will begin using the stones. The room is kept warmer than a regular massage room for a couple of reasons. First of all, the stones are in the room heating up in a Crock Pot, in dishes placed on a Grittle or some other heating device. The steam coming off the stones themselves and the heat from the heating appliance makes the temperature rise. The room has to stay warmer to also ensure that the stones hold on to the heat. Cold stone massage is a type of therapy as well, but when you are expecting hot stones, a cold one would be a rude awakening. Secondly, the room is kept at a higher temperature to keep the client warm. Once the hot stones are being used, the client's core temperature could drop quickly, or you could feel cold because the stones are hot and the room is not. In order for the massage to be helpful, the client needs to be relaxed and shivering is not relaxing.
So what about these stones? They are rocks of varying sizes. Anything from a fist rock to a stone the size of your pinky finger or smaller. The various sizes of stones serve different functions. Even the different shapes have their own purposes. For example, a fist sized stone could be placed on a client's lower back for heat and weight, while a stone that is about half an inch long could be gently inserted between the toes. I know, between the toes made me squirm a bit too until I had it done. It is heavenly if done properly. Stones being placed between the toes or fingers should be done so gently and patiently. Hot stones should also be dragged from the hem of the draping onto the skin as not to surprise the client. The slow movement from the sheet's edge onto the skin allows the client to get to used to the temperature change and let the therapist know if the stone is too hot. It should not burn you.
Not only are the shapes and sizes important, but the surfaces and colours of the stones are important. The surface of each stone must be smooth without sharp or rough edges. This keeps the rock from inuring the client; makes sense right? The stones I have are a set of rocks that were shaped and smoothed naturally along lake shores. I have a set I bought, but then also picked perfectly shaped and smoothed stones from Lake Superior's shore. They are also the right colour, and yes, you can have the wrong colour. Stones that are used with heat are supposed to be dark; brown, black, grey. White should not be present on the stone. That white part would be weaker and risks exploding the rock when it is heating or if it is placed on a client's body-obviously not safe. So, when we picked the rocks from Lake Superior, I had to keep checking with my Mom that there wasn't any white on them. White rocks can be used with cold treatments, but remember, not heat.
Now that we understand the stones a bit better, let's discuss the actual massage and its impact on the human body. Hot stone massages are more expensive than regular massages. There are a couple of reasons for this. The biggest reason is because it takes more preparation for the therapist. We have to clean the rocks, heat them up, heat up the room and when we're done clean the rocks again. Getting massage oil off of stones is possible, but it takes a little more work. It also costs more for the therapist to heat up the room and keep the stones heated. And on the marketing side of things, the hot stone massage has been presented as a very special spa treatment. I'm not diminishing the wonderfulness of the hot stone massage, but it kind of has a mystical or pampering vibe attached to it. In that sense, therapists can charge more for it. That said, this type of massage definitely has some great health benefits.
You know the phrase "you get what you pay for?" That is true for the hot stone massage. It may cost more, but you get "more bang for your buck," as Mr. K likes to say. For every one stroke with a hot stone, you would have to do ten strokes manually. That is how much the heat and weight of the stone improves circulation and muscle relaxation. It is a bit easier on the therapist because we don't have to dig in as hard to get results. I had a hot stone treatment performed once by a therapist who, if I had gotten a regular massage from, wouldn't have been very good, but the hot stones made the experience worth it. I could hardly walk after due to mushy muscles and was very sleepy. I felt so good. I used to get them all of the time when I was competing because I could get a lot of relief without having an exhausting, deep, painful massage. At first I was worried that the stones would hurt, or would feel hard and clumsy against my body, but besides the heat, you can hardly tell the therapist is using stones.
For those of you who have never had a hot stone massage, let me walk you through a standard treatment. You would start on your tummy with the cozy covers pulled up over you. The therapist starts by placing a stone on your sacrum, which is basically just above your tailbone. The back is done first with the therapist leaving the stones they have used along the spine. The heat and weight of the stones, although they are quite light, soak into the muscles and relax the client as the therapist continues to work up the back. After the back, the backs of the legs are addressed. The therapist may tuck stones into the sides of the thighs as they work along the legs. Again, letting the heat from the stones relax the muscles. After the legs are finished it is onto the backs of the arms. The therapist may place hot stones into the palms. Then all of the stones are removed, including the one on the sacrum and you turn over. Front of legs are addressed and tiny warm stones are tucked between your toes. If you don't want this, of course tell your therapist. A cylindrical stone is placed behind the neck, right where the head attaches to the neck. This is probably one of the best feelings, especially if you are someone who wears glasses or relies heavily on your eyesight for your job. Some of the muscles that move your eyes are located back there. Warm stones are placed on your sternum and along your abdomen. Again if you don't want these, you can tell your therapist that you don't like them. The front of your arms are massaged and your face as well. Again, if there is any area that you don't want worked on, like your face, let your therapist know. The treatment usually ends with three small cool stones being placed on your forehead. The stones are usually room temperature, but because you are so warm from the increase in circulation and the hot stones lining your body, the stones feel cold. They feel very soothing. There are variations on this treatment and each session can be tailored to the client's preferences and needs.
Hot stone therapy is incredibly relaxing and is beneficial for a lot of different conditions. It is good for athletes during training periods; for people with Arthritis during a non-flare up; people with muscle spasticity; people who need a lot of work done, but can't handle the pain of deep tissue massage; and people who are in chronic pain because it is relaxing and non-invasive. It's also good for people who are stressed and just need to relax. If you fall asleep, or nearly fall asleep, you know you had a great hot stone treatment.
Hot stone cannot be performed by just any massage therapist. In Ontario, you have to take an extra course that teaches you how to massage with and care for the stones. If someone is offering hot stone therapy, feel free to ask them to see their certificate or ask them where they were educated. If they can't fulfill either request, you may want to get a hot stone treatment elsewhere.
I hope this was helpful and perhaps made hot stone appealing. I know just talking about it makes me want to go get a treatment.
As always, leave me any questions or comments. If there is anything you want me to address in a future post, please let me know and I would be more than happy to. And since it's Monday, it would be a great day to go get a massage. :)


Rudy - The dog with a blog said...

LOL, you make me want to go get a massage!

Jen said...

I want one!

Jess and Glacier said...

I know. Writing the post made me want to go get one as well. LOL