A massage therapist places a small black stone on a female client's forehead.

Three half-hour sessions of hot stone massage each week for four weeks resulted in a significant improvement in sleep quality among patients on maintenance hemodialysis, according to recent research.

The study, “Impact of hot stone massage therapy on sleep quality in patients on maintenance hemodialysis: A randomized controlled trial,” involved 60 men in their late 50s, all of whom were undergoing maintenance hemodialysis.

These subjects were randomly assigned to either the intervention group or the control group. Those in the control group received standard care with no massage therapy. In addition to standard care, subjects in the intervention group received 30  minutes of hot stone massage three days a week for four weeks.

For the intervention, the practitioner used five heated basalt stones of varying sizes. According to the researchers, a dry towel was placed on the subject’s back, and the stones were placed at the sites of the first through fifth chakras. After allowing the stones to sit without movement for 10 minutes, the practitioner performed 20 minutes of hot stone massage.

“Back massage started from the lower back and continued to the neck,” state the study’s authors. “Stone massage includes several steps: light stroking movements, regular rubbing with kneading, friction rubbing and tapping.”

The main outcome measure in this study was sleep quality, which was measured using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI). Subjects completed the PSQI before the start of the four-week intervention period and again one month after the intervention period ended.

Results of the research showed a statistically significant improvement in sleep quality scores among subjects in the massage group one month after four-week intervention period ended. In the control group, there was a statistically significant decrease in sleep quality one month after the four-week intervention period ended.

“Traditionally, diminished quality of sleep encourages physicians to prescribe hypnotic drugs (usually benzodiazepines) for patients on hemodialysis, which may lead to side effects such as drug resistance, memory impairment and dependence,” state the study’s authors.

“In this study, it was demonstrated that basalt hot stone massage therapy can successfully contribute to reducing sleep disturbances, improving quality of sleep and enhancing comfort level in patients on maintenance hemodialysis.”

Authors: Haleh Ghavami, Shams Aldin Shamsi, Behnam Abdollahpoor, Moloud Radfar, Hamid Reza Khalkhali.

Sources: Department of Medical/Surgical Nursing, Nursing and Midwifery Faculty, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, and Patient Safety Research Center, Urmia University of Medical Sciences, Urmia, Iran. Originally published online in August 2019 in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences.