A History of Hot Stone Massage

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This article was originally published in the May 2010 issue of Massage Magazine.

Although some massage therapists and clients may consider hot stone massage to be simply fashionable, the use of stones and gemstones for healing purposes dates back thousands of years.

A Part of History

Both verbal and written history confirm the Chinese used heated stones more than 2,000 years ago as a means of improving the function of internal organs.  Stones were also used for healing work in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Egypt, and India.

These traditions included laying stones in patterns on the body, carrying or wearing stones for health and protection, using stones for the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, and for ceremonial uses-- such as sweat lodges and medicine wheels.

A Source of Healing

The healing practices of curanderas (literal translation: Spanish for "healers") and other female caregivers often included dealing with disease as well as pregnancy and childbirth.  These folk healers used heated stones to diminish the discomfort of menstruation, plus the application of cold stones to slow bleeding after labor.

Some sources also cite instances of cultures in which women believed that simply holding stones during labor added to their strength and endurance.

Ancient Greek and Roman cultures have a long recorded history of many forms of massage and bodywork.  The Roman Empire, which dates from 27 B.C. to 476 A.D., is noted for its creation of Roman baths.

This ancient tradition is still with us today in the form of modern hydrotherapy practices.  The Romans also used stones in sauna and combined the effects of hot immersion bath with the cooling effects of marble stone and cold pools.

An Old Technique is Reborn

The use of heated stones in massage was reborn with the introduction of LaStone Therapy, created by Mary Nelson, in 1993.  Stone massage has blossomed since then in a multi-million dollar industry.

Stone massage, done correctly, is one of the most relaxing forms of massage a person can receive and because of its popularity, has once again traveled quickly around the globe.

The full-body, hot-stone massage has evolved to include deep tissue-specific work, hot-stone facials, hot-stone pedicures and manicures, and hot-stone median therapy.  Because of their incredible energy, stones are used in reiki, polarity therapy, and cranial sacral work.

There are many therapists who use their own variation of stone massage, from just placing stones on the body to a deep-tissue massage.  Two important safety factors, however, apply to all uses of hot stones in massage therapy:

  • Never place a hot stone on bare skin without moving it.

  • Always use a barrier, such as a specific textile product designed for stone placement, or at least a sheet of towel to protect the skin.

The Evolution of Stone-Supply Companies

With this massage modality growing in popularity, the need for sources of hot stone massage became a necessity.  To this end, stone-supply companies evolved, such as Desert Stone People, TH. Stone, RubRocks, and Nature's Stones Inc.

The next challenge came with the need for heating the stones; incredibly, the initial suggested means of heating stones was in a turkey roaster!

Other options included crock pots, electric skillets and warming trays, all of which carried the possibility of overheating the stones and burning the client.

The problem, of course, was that all these options were actually kitchen appliances as opposed to being professional heating appliances manufactured specifically for spas, chiropractor's offices, and massage-therapy treatment rooms.

After much collaboration and cooperation between Nature's Stones Inc. and the Metal Ware Corporation (makers of Nesco products), the Spa-Pro Massage Stone Heater-- a unit designed specifically for hot-stone massage-- was created.

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The Value In Hot Stone Massage

As therapists recognized the value of working with massage stones, they also saw the need for high-quality instruction in the use of massage stones.  Nelson assembled a team of therapists to teach all around the world.  Sonya Alexander from TH. Stone was busy teaching while Carollanne Crichton, founding director of The Institute of the Healing Arts in Rhode Island, then produced a video showing her method of stone massage.

As one of the first therapists on the East Coast to do stone massage, I was busy designing protocols for different modalities and teaching in Europe, the Caribbean, and across the U.S.

About the Author

Pat Mayrhofer is president and founder of Nature's Stones Inc., an international massage-stone education and supply company.  She is a massage therapist with more than 15 years of experience, having taught for 13 of those years in Italy, Austria, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S. 

The therapists at Spa Rockaway are trained and certified in Hot Stone Massage.  We are open 7 days a week and look forward to treating you!  Appointments for Hot Stone Massage can be made over the phone by calling 718-318-8840 or online by following this link.