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Navy vet-turned-physical therapist now helping battle opioids

Paul Caudillo at work

Dr. Paul Caudillo is an out-patient clinic director at Pair & Marotta Physical Therapy in Bakersfield. Photo courtesy Paul Caudillo.

Dr. Paul Caudillo got his introduction to physical therapy the really hard way: By falling out of a helicopter.

It was in 2003, during Navy training in eastern San Diego County. Luckily the Sikorsky HH-60H Seahawk was only 6 to 10 feet off the ground when he fell out of an open cabin door and onto hard dirt.

But he hurt his back.

“I couldn’t even bend or run or do anything I liked to do,” he recalled.

After some acupuncture and physical therapy, he was “good to go within two or three weeks.”

Fast forward 13 years and Caudillo, a 2010 CSUB grad, is clinic director of a Pair & Marotta Physical Therapy clinic in southwest Bakersfield. He both treats patients and has been modernizing the business side of the multi-clinic practice.

His biggest passion these days is getting people in pain off harmful opioids and into healthier, active lifestyles.

“Doctors need to hold patients accountable for their lifestyles. Millions of dollars have been spent and wasted on reactive treatments and medical procedures,” he said. “Learn how to self-manage your pain, know your limitations and learn how to eat properly.”


Paul Caudillo Navy 1

Paul Caudillo joined the Navy in 2001, just before the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Photo courtesy Paul Caudillo.

Caudillo is originally from Goleta but moved to Bakersfield in junior high when his mom remarried. He went to Tevis Junior High and Bakersfield High School, playing baseball and soccer along the way. At 18 he hadn’t really been outside California and was ready to see the world.

“I just wanted to kind of go and get away from Bakersfield, get away from this life and go explore and be on my own,” he said.

In part influenced by his older brother, a Marine, he joined the U.S. Navy in 2001. He was attracted to the physical nature of the service, to the pay, to the chance to travel. Little did he know, of course, that 9/11 was around the corner.

After the terror attacks, the Navy expedited Caudillo’s boot camp graduation and gave him orders to be a rescue swimmer. He did a year of training in Pensacola, Fla., then was stationed in San Diego in 2002 with HS-4, a maritime search and rescue squadron that was attached to CAG-14 (USS John C. Stennis Carrier Air Group, Pacific Fleet).

“I really wanted to do something different. Rather than shoot people, I wanted to save lives.”

Paul Caudillo Navy 2

Paul Caudillo served in the Navy until 2006, including an eight-month tour in Iraq. Photo courtesy Paul Caudillo.

His saves ran the gamut, from a couple of Navy flyers who punched out of a malfunctioning F-14 in 2003 to a woman who fell off a cruise ship in 2004.

An eight-month tour in Iraq followed, doing medical evacuations, combat search and rescue, convoy escorts and training of Iraqi forces. The work ranged from thrilling to mundane.

“There were times where I would fly night missions, inserting SOF (special operations forces) in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “Then there were days I was just picking up some British general with his dog.”

In 2006 he decided to leave the Navy. An officer career just didn’t interest him, nor did Navy SEAL training.  He flew from Dubai to Hawaii, celebrated for a few days, “and that was that.”


Caudillo returned to San Diego County and took classes at Grossmont College. Life was getting a little expensive, so he moved back home with his parents in Bakersfield and enrolled at CSUB.

At the university he studied kinesiology and found his mentors, Dr. Jeff Moffit and Kris Grappendorf. It was the perfect time to be studying exercise sciences on the campus – the Student Recreation Center was being built. He was among the first student staffers to work there.

“I was in class full-time, from early morning to afternoon studying kinesiology, biomechanics, human physiology and performance, then I was going to the Fit Lab to implement my studies.”

He graduated from CSUB in 2010 then had to go elsewhere to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy. He ended up at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions in Provo, Utah, in part lured by the outdoor adventure and world-renowned snowboarding of the Wasatch mountain range.

Over 3 1/2 years, Caudillo completed eight semesters, 133 credits and 51 weeks of clinical rotations. 

“Differential diagnosis, pathophysiology, evidence-based practice, pharmacology and neuroanatomy are what separate doctors of physical therapy from physical therapists who may have attained their bachelor’s some years ago,” he said. “The growing patient population is growing more diverse, and the complexity of their conditions is driving the need for higher education in the allied healthcare fields.”


Paul Caudillo headshot

Paul Caudillo both treats patients and is modernizing the business side of operations at Pair & Marotta Physical Therapy. Photo courtesy Paul Caudillo.

Today he specializes in orthopedic and post-surgical rehab, including the treatment of patients with neck, shoulder, back, hip and knee pain.  He calls back pain an “epidemic,” especially in Kern County, due to obesity and poor medical treatment, including the over-prescribing of opioids and over-utilization of diagnostic imaging and unnecessary surgeries.

Back pain and mismanagement of it not only can cripple sufferers, he argues, but has a huge impact on the U.S. economy when you look at lost productivity and the cost of diagnosis and treatment. “We are talking $50 billion per year spent on treating back pain in the United States.”

His “passion” is finding patients better solutions than pain killers and surgery.

“That’s my drive, that’s my passion:  To get people in here, talk to them, ask them how long they’ve been on opioids, ask them, ‘Have you tried to get off? Have you tried physical therapy? What have you tried, what has failed, what has worked?”

He’s also been modernizing Pair & Marotta by implementing electronic medical record keeping to help drive automation, essentially taking the company “from dial-up to 4G.” His long-term plan is to treat patients for a few years, then transition into business development, management and hopefully ownership.


“I love him,” said Angela Mora, 47, who has been coming to Caudillo for care for nearly three years. “He is helpful because he gets to know me.”

Mora still shows signs of expressive aphasia, a condition in which her speech requires much effort to form complete and recognizable sentences. 

When Mora first started seeing Caudillo, she couldn’t walk or even speak.  She suffered severe, right-sided hemiplegia due to a stroke. He’s worked on her functionality ever since.

Today she’s walking and has near-full use of her right arm again; she’s just working on shoulder mobility and fine motor strength.

“All this is now good,” she said proudly, rotating her arm. She and her mom, Teresa Sanchez, credit Caudillo’s positive nature for helping inspire her progress.

“He’s got that personality where you just want to work with him,” Sanchez said.


Paul Caudillo Pickleball

Paul Caudillo has joined America's Pickleball craze. It's a sport that combines tennis and ping-pong. Photo courtesy Alex Balfour.

So how does a physical therapist keep himself physically fit?

In addition to what you’d expect – running, mountain biking, snowboarding, weight-lifting and yoga – Caudillo has joined America’s Pickleball craze. It combines elements of tennis and ping-pong.

“The games are relatively quick, it’s social, it doesn’t punish your body like CrossFit,” said Caudillo, who calls himself an “orthopedic mess” after abusing his body in his 20s.

Caudillo is “intense” on the Pickleball court, said his friend and fellow player Jorge Barrientos.

“He goes at it 100 percent,” Barrientos said. “The second time out he had the best paddles you can buy, he was dressed in Pickleball shoes. He had all the gear.”

What you also see out there is how Caudillo likes to combine his passions, Barrientos said.

“If someone hurts their shoulder, he’s out there checking out their shoulder, telling them to come to his office. Some of them he doesn’t even charge,” Barrientos said.

On the even more private side, Caudillo got married last year. His wife, Valerie Caudillo, is director of clinical operations at Stockdale Radiology.  The couple met in 2014 in Chicago when she was completing a clinical rotation in psychiatry. She graduated with her MD from Windsor University in 2015.

Caudillo recently joined the CSUB Alumni Association board.

“It can’t just be all about being a physical therapist in Bakersfield,” he said of his new association with the school. “You’ve got to get reconnected with the university, you have to network with other professionals in your community and you have to find a way to affect much-needed change”


Name:  Paul Caudillo

Age: 34

Career:  Out-patient clinic director, Pair & Marotta Physical Therapy (current). Former staff physical therapist, Central Valley Physical Therapy, and former search and rescue swimmer/crew chief, U.S. Navy.

Community service highlights: Member of several physical therapy-related organizations and CSUB Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Education: Graduated from Bakersfield High School in 2001. Earned Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology and Exercise Science from CSUB in 2010 and Doctor of Physical Therapy from Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions in 2013.

Family: Married Valerie Caudillo in 2017.