Add Warmth to Your Sessions

By Rebecca Jones
[Ten for Today]

1. enhance your offerings

Yes, heat is comforting, but it also increases the benefits clients receive from massage. “Hot therapy increases the blood flow to the affected area,” says Jeff Baskett, marketing director for Sombra Professional Therapy Products. “This is good to promote healing and increase muscle elasticity, which enhances range of motion. Hot therapy enhances relaxation and decreases muscle tension and pain.”

2. Prepare Muscles During the Opener

As an opener to the session, a focused heat treatment not only relaxes tissues and decreases pain, but also prepares muscles for further work. “It can help the therapist go deeper,” says Jacqueline Painchaud, licensed physical therapist and owner of Grampa’s Garden, a Brunswick, Maine, supplier of therapeutic hot and cold packs. Consider, for example, a heated neck wrap or body shawl. “Put the heat on right away: 15–20 minutes is the optimum time,” Painchaud says. “It relaxes the muscle before the therapist even begins to work on it.”

3. Warm Your Oils

For years, the Holy Grail of massage oils has been finding a product that would heat up as it’s applied. “That’s a difficult product to come up with because the ingredients that give you warming tend to be sticky, so you can’t massage with it,” says Jean Shea, founder and CEO of Biotone. Since “hot” isn’t available, Biotone offers “warm” with its Healthy Benefits Gel. “It’s not off-the-scale warm, but it’s a nice warm without being too tacky, too greasy, or too irritating.”

Until researchers invent massage oil that heats as it is applied, you can always just warm your existing oils. Top-of-the-line bottle warmers can exceed $200, but for those on a budget, Massage Warehouse offers a nonelectric bottle warmer for just $30.

4. Remember: Safety First

Hot stone massage has steadily gained in popularity since its modern introduction nearly 20 years ago, but don’t be fooled by pictures of clients relaxing with hot stones resting along their spine—that practice is unsafe. “That’s not how stone massage should be done,” warns Pat Mayrhofer, president of Nature’s Stones Inc., one of the top stone therapy training companies. “It’s done with the stones in the therapist’s hand. You never place a hot stone on bare skin without moving the stone.”

Of course, proper education, including information about how to properly sterilize stones after their use, is crucial for therapists wanting to practice hot stone therapies. 

(For more information on proper hot stone techniques, watch ABMP’s “Stone Massage Safety Guidelines” video at 

5. give hot and cold a shot

For a variation on hot stone therapy, try alternating hot stones with cold stones. “It confuses the brain a little,” Mayrhofer says. “The brain says, ‘What do you want me to do, contract or expand the blood vessels?’ We call it vascular gymnastics.” When therapists alternate between temperature extremes—a hot stone in one hand, a cold stone in the other—the heat boosts blood flow and the cold draws out inflammation. “This is a treatment you could get in the middle of the day,” Mayrhofer says. “As relaxing as it is, it energizes you so you don’t feel sleepy.”

6. Try Self-Heating Stones

Heating stones can be a challenge for therapists making house calls, because heaters are bulky. One option: self-heating stones. Sassi Stones are handmade from crushed stone and clay, and inside each is a lithium ion battery. “You connect the heater and the battery together and close the stone, which is held together by magnets,” says Sabrina Ebel, director of operations for the Arizona-based company. It takes just a minute to heat the stones, and they stay warm for up to two hours. “Only the bottom of the stone gets hot. The top part stays cool so massage therapists never burn their hands,” Ebel says. And the bottom of the stone has a set maximum temperature to protect the client’s safety, too.

7. think Lighter options

Transporting heavy stones just wasn’t working well for petite Ottawa massage therapist Huguette Long, so she devised a lightweight alternative to give her home-based customers the same type of experience they might find at a spa. Long developed Thermal Palms, which are soft, handheld, heated vinyl wraps that glide easily over skin or over clothing and won’t hurt bony areas. “The wraps themselves, if taken care of, will last about 40 sessions or more,” says Eric Brown, massage therapist and owner of the Toronto company that makes Thermal Palms. 

8. Bring in Bamboo

Another alternative to hot stones is warm bamboo. St. Petersburg, Florida, massage therapist Nathalie Cecilia developed the technique because her hands started to hurt from delivering massage. “With this, the therapist doesn’t need to use so much pressure,” says Cecilia, founder of Bamboo Fusion. The company offers continuing education credits and products for bamboo massage. “Because the bamboo is harder than your thumb or fingers, it helps to go deep into the fascia. It tends to melt the tension without any effort.” It differs from stone massage in that stones are round while bamboo is longer and bigger and covers a larger area of the client’s body. Cecilia just heats the bamboo with a heating pad until it’s warm, then uses antibacterial wipes to clean each piece after she’s finished. 

9. Wrap Clients in Warmth

Hot wraps provide yet another means to deliver therapeutic heat. Detoxifying wraps can aid in a number of conditions, including acne, burns, chronic fatigue, dermatitis, and fibromyalgia. (Note: wraps are not recommended for clients with some conditions, including cancer, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, lupus, and urinary tract infections.) According to massage therapist Nicol Sockey of Set-N-Me-Free (a Portland, Oregon, company that markets a popular aloe vera wrap), heat facilitates absorption of treatment products. 

The cloth wraps are soaked in a heated liquid solution, then wrung out and applied, mummy-style, to the skin. The client puts on a vinyl suit over the wrap to keep the heat in. “For the next 45 minutes, they can lounge comfortably,” Sockey says. “They usually fall asleep.”

10. Set Up a Personal Sauna

Steamy Wonder calls its steam canopy a “wrapless wrap.” The lightweight, portable canopy can convert your massage table into a personal sauna for a client. “It’s based in ayurvedic philosophy,” says Kenny Zolo, manager of the Iowa-based company. “That is, a proper steam sauna for purification and detoxification should be done lying down, not sitting. And your head should be left out, with an ice pack on it to cool the brain. Your blood pressure won’t go up when you get a sauna this way.”