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Living with a Disability and Finding Good Care Through Massage and Bodywork by Ashley Thomas

Updated: Jun 5

I started working with Ashley Thomas in 2019. After working with Ashley for several years, a massage therapist friend suggested she try Rolfing® Structural Integration. Ashley is an amazing woman! She's the Founder and Executive Director of Bridge II Sports, a nonprofit organization that develops programs where youth and adults with physical disabilities can participate in recreation, exercise, and competitive sports. It's such a joy to work with her and see how committed she is to her healing journey. This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

"I have been part of the medical community for nearly sixty years as I was born with Spina Bifida. Many would say that I should be an expert at navigating the systems as I grew with each new turn by medical providers and insurance changes. That is not the case. While the medical field has improved from new technologies that are very helpful, other alternative methods have been overlooked. I thought I would try to share some of what I have learned on my journey to help you navigate excellent support while living with a disability.


Those who use their bodies differently due to spinal cord injury, being an amputee, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Cerebral Palsy, and the list can go on, will know that back pain is an everyday companion. For me, that is true. Our bodies are designed to move, not be static and stationary. I was dutiful at stretching for many years, but pain caught up with me. I began exploring alternative methods as I do not do well with pain medications. I had no desire to live in a mental stupor, watching life pass by and not be a part of it. I also did not want my bowel and bladder to pay the price for continual narcotic pain meds.

About 13 years ago, I began trying massage therapy. I am still using it for pain management 13 years later. The difference now is the frequency with which I go. When I first started, my massage therapist was intuitive and could feel my body begin to tense up at surgery sites, respecting my body cues. She would back off the pressure, taking her time over months until the tension lessened with her touch on my scarred area. My injured body found safety in her touch, and she began the work of addressing years of scar tissue accumulation.


Why was breaking down scar tissue so important? We are designed for movement, and surgeries cause scarring in the healing process that does not allow the muscles, tendons to move freely. Many types of disabilities can effectively create the same effect on the body. Thus massage begins moving those places to ease the restriction of the tissues that do not move freely. My massage therapist was very good at telling me what she was doing so that my mind was calm with her touch.


When I competed in kayaking, massage was the tool that kept my shoulders and legs stretched and pliable with all the other use I was putting on those body parts. I was always amazed at how my leg, which I do not use in kayaking, would reflect and hold tension while paddling. When knots were found in the muscles' layers, my massage therapist's hand worked it away and gave me other stretches or ball work to keep that area moving. Then I was introduced to cupping. That has been a lifesaver for my shoulders and neck. Often, I am getting bodywork and cupping at the same time for no additional cost.


Over the last five years, I have gone to every-other-week, to 10 days or sometimes weekly. I also changed the type of bodywork I receive. Now, I need more fascia work to address scar tissue, and we're looking at structure and movement patterns because the massage was no longer giving me the relief it did at first. That may be due to age, hypothyroidism, post-menopause, …. who knows. This work, Rolfing, also has a different type of delivery. She also uses her feet. It can sometimes be painful for me, BUT so worth the release of my physical pain afterward. As I am a wheelchair user, I find I need my hip flexors stretched. I also have my legs stretched from my glutes to my heels. I can feel the pain in my body release with every stretch.

My needs are lovingly cared for at Bull City Soles Massage & Bodywork Studio.


I know there is one other big obstacle, is the location accessible? When Julie moved to this location on Guess Road, she took the extra care and made an accessible ADA bathroom fitted so that people like me can utilize her bodywork. All of her tables are also electronic, so they move up and down for a secure and easy transfer. That is more than I can say for many doctor offices I have visited. Also, Julie is making accessible spaces in her office park, educating that people with disabilities are also part of the community, and they need the extra space for parking.


Costs vary from area to practice. Insurance sometimes covers this cost; others do not. It is worth taking my lunch to work, fixing dinner at home, and having funds to care for my body. It is a priority for me. I want to be part of life, engage, converse, and not be disabled by pain and medication.

Because of my experience, massage and bodywork are my number one suggestions for pain management. The therapists at Bull City Soles have a diverse skillset, see how the different types of bodywork benefit a client and collaborate to put the person's needs first. I highly endorse Bull City Soles as an excellent massage and bodywork provider in Durham, NC. Check them out at Read the latest research on Rolfing® and Cerebral Palsy.


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