by Oleg Bouimer, LMT

“Have you had your rocks on lately?” This question has been adapted by many massage therapists around the country, as a part of their marketing strategy for Hot Rocks Massage. This modality of massage has gained wide popularity thanks to the original system of LaStone Massage therapy introduced by Mary Nelson from Tuscon, Arizona about 15 years ago.

My personal experience of using hot and cold rocks as a part of the system of massage began with my training in LaStone therapy in 1997. At the time, it was based on the combination of Swedish and Aromatherapy massage, in connection with some spiritual practices. However, since I have always been inclined to be more result oriented in my practice, I ended up successfully using hot and cold rocks as a part of my Sports, Deep Tissue and even Medical Massage sessions.

Let’s start with the rocks themselves. The best material for Hot Rock massage is basalt rocks which are volcanic rock. Pebble river rocks may also be used for Hot Rock Massage. Finding the river stones yourself can be an enjoyable and even spiritual experience for the practitioner. However the practitioner must make sure that every surface of each stone is extremely smooth. To read more about basalt stones click here.

At first look Hot Rock massage is a simple procedure. Heat up rocks, cover them and massaged the segment with oil and slide stones along the skin surface. The main effect is heat radiation in combination with gentle pressure. It is easy to understand how heat from the hot rocks could be used for the purpose of general relaxation.

However, it would take special training to learn how to use a combination of heat and cold delivered in a way when you would evoke a very specific response from either a local area or the Central Nervous System in general. In other words, what we saw as a boom in the Spa businesses adding Hot Rocks Massage to their menu of services was nothing more than their choice of adding something trendy, while using it at entry level – a primitive application of heat, delivered with some light Swedish strokes and a fancy rocks placement on and around the body. Unfortunately, without proper training, the use of hot rocks in many of those businesses has created a situation where even some massage liability insurance companies had to stop offering coverage for Hot Rocks Massage, due to the growing number of lawsuits as a result of customers getting burned.

Of course, having rocks at the right temperature is very important: when they are not hot enough – it is ineffective and, – the best of my personal experience, – annoying; when they are too hot – Ouch! Burn baby, burn! Needless to say, I have seen people using some kitchen accessories and/or heavy rubber gloves to scoop rocks out of the hot water. Also, I saw teachers recommending keeping a bowl with cold water next to the roaster, – to dip hot rocks into that water before using them on clients… Oh my, oh my! Obviously, I’ve seen enough to come to the conclusion that somewhere back when the idea of using hot rocks became so popular, many therapists grabbed and ran with it without really understanding and developing the feeling of connection with their clients through those ‘mighty rocks’.

With that in mind, let me share with you some of my insights on this subject:
First of all examine the rocks you have or are planning to buy. It is the best if each stone is symmetrically weighted and balanced. In such case each stone is able to accumulate and disperse an even amount of heat throughout its surface and you have less chance of burning the skin of your client. Unbalanced stones have a tendency to accumulate more heat in the thicker part and this fact can mislead you if you grab the less heated part of the stone while applying the hotter part to your client.

Based on my experience of working in different climates – clearly, hot rocks were not as much in demand in the middle of a summer in Arizona, as they were in the winter time in New York. Therefore, keep the climate in mind when betting on the best time to offer a Special on hot rocks. This is not rocket science. Think of yourself first: how is the weather affecting you? Plus, be aware of some personal preferences your clients might have.

“Hot or cold – mix it!” Based on my experience of using rocks while kneading thousands of clients into a deep slumber – hot rocks should be alternated with cold rocks, especially if you do need to keep working on the same area, without allowing the Phenomenon of Adaptation to kick in. Therefore, – to keep the thermoreceptors ‘fresh’, – you have to switch to a cold before continuing with heat again. Naturally, there is only so much heat that muscles/ soft tissue can take while still responding to it! So, – keep switching. Generally, we improve circulation by using heat, but we stimulate it by using cold.

When I examined the most popular educational videos and books (including original LaStone concept) where Hot Rock massage is discussed I found that in many cases this modality is presented from the perspective of relaxation.

Based on my experience of teaching my “Deep Tissue Rocks” seminar, I can say that there is definitely a difference between using the heat of the rocks as a ‘nice addition’ to a client’s experience of massage vs using rocks themselves as an active tool of ‘slicing and dicing’ stressed muscles and surrounding soft tissue. It is true that Hot Rock massage is a very relaxed procedure but it is an unfortunate simplification of this great modality. The practitioner will be able to deliver a much more profound impact to the client’s body if he or she is ready to step out of the simple relaxation mode when the session is based entirely on the application of gliding strokes.

Rocks could become an invaluable tool in your massage work if this is how you will approach them. As a Hot Stone Massage practitioner you have two choices: “Nap it or rock it!”. In my opinion, there are too many educators and practitioners teaching and using rocks as a chance to take a nap, while relying on the heat itself to do the work. Although there is nothing wrong with that, it is good to be aware of your choices!

To rock the Hot Stone Massage session the practitioner should improve his or her technical arsenal. Let me present some of Hot Stone Massage techniques which will mesmerize your clients and help you to build up successful practice.

Two Stones Crossing Technique (TSC)

TSC can be used on the lower back, gluteal area or on the thigh. It consists of two phases.


Start the first phase by pressing two stones into the soft tissue on the opposite side of the massaged segment. Notice that you should face your client’s head. While maintaining the moderate compression of tissue PULL the soft tissue up, using both rocks as a tool. Don’t just slide the rocks along the sides of the body. When you feel that soft tissue start to resist further lifting slightly decrease pressure and let the tissue slide back. However, keep bringing both stones close together until you hear the clicking sound of two rocks contacting each other.

At this moment you should start the second phase of the TSC. First of all you must rotate your body facing your client’s feet as it is shown in the video. From this new position you should go down with both rocks stretching the soft tissue along the same line of application as the first phase. While pushing the stones down and apart try to STRETCH the soft tissue until your stones reach the initial position of phase one on the sides of the massaged segment.

At the end the video shows the re-application of TSC and body mechanics to maintain fluidity of application.

Knife Technique (KT)

The best area of application of KT is the gluteal region. Choose a longer stone and hold it as a knife with both hands. The basis of both hands are the foundation of the stroke because they will provide the necessary stability. It is much easier to be seated or squatted.


Place both hands in the area just above the greater trochanter and apply circular strokes with the stone. The strokes must originate in the wrist joints. Try to make strokes with a large radius going around the entire gluteal area.

Decompression Technique (DT)

Large muscles have a tendency to accumulate waste products along their edges. DT allows us to use a combination of heat and moderate compression to effectively drain the entire muscle from its edges. To apply this technique correctly the practitioner must keep in mind the exact anatomical position of the massaged muscle.

The video below starts withe the practitioner outlines the anatomical position of rectus femoris muscle. After that the video shows the application of DT on the example of the rectus femoris muscle.


Two stones are used and notice that the practitioner combines the gentle compression of the rectus femoris muscle between two stones located on the opposite sides of the muscle with sliding forward along the massaged muscle.

Hot Stone Tendon Technique (HSTT)

This technique allows you to address the tendinous part of massaged muscles before using other techniques e.g., Hot Stone Kneading Technique or Decompression Technique. Use smaller size stone(s). The first part of the video below shows an example of one hand variant of application of this technique on the tendon of triceps brachii muscle. Press the stone against the tendon and apply gentle friction along and after that across the tendon. Finish it with application of 3-4 vertical compressions.


The second part of the video shows a bi-manual variant of the same technique. In this case two small stones are used and the practitioner slides them simultaneously along both sides of the Achilles’ tendon.

Hot Stone Percussion (HSP)

HSP is used on large muscle groups away from prominent bone structures. One stone or pressure stone is placed flat and it is pressed into the soft tissue. One hand slowly slides this stone forward (while maintaining moderate compression of the tissue) and the other hand uses a second stone called a percussion stone to apply the percussion to the pressure stone.


The size of the stones, their weight as well as intensity of percussion should be adjusted to the size of massaged muscles. Larger muscle groups require more intense application.

This technique combines three healing factors during its application: heat, strong effleurage-compression and percussion-vibration. It creates a very unusual sensation which will be greatly appreciate by your clients.

These and other techniques of Hot Stone Massage are taking the practitioner well beyond the commonly used approach of gilding strokes. They help the practitioners to be competitive on the market while greatly enhancing the outcome of the Hot Stone Massage session. Another great advantage of these techniques is their usage of during Sports Massage or Medical Massage sessions. In these cases, it is the best to apply Hot Stone Massage only as a part of the session. It helps the practitioner employ another important tool to deliver healing impact.

Lastly, – as a part of taking care of yourself, – you should develop a habit of picking up and applying a hot rock to your hands, forearms and upper shoulders when you feel tightness in those areas, but you should choose a cold rock when you feel some heat and swelling in them. So, you should develop a keen awareness of what your own body needs and to learn to both recognize and respond to any signal coming from it. Naturally, you should be more inclined to using heat in the first half of your work-day and using cold at the end of it. Even therapists need to have their “rocks on.”

Category: Stress Reduction Massage