Independent Physical Therapist
Sanatan Golden has a single overarching goal: to keep people active their whole lives. And he stays busy doing just that. Sanatan, a UW Doctor of Physical Therapy graduate, is an independent physical therapist specializing in treating and preventing lower extremity injuries. He’s also a regional expert in running mechanics and is the strength and conditioning coach for the Portland Stags ultimate Frisbee team.
"The number one thing that physical therapists are is teachers," Sanatan said. "We're educating people about their body, about pain, about management, about movement. We teach people so they can take it forward on their own."
Can you tell us a bit about your career?
I'm an independent physical therapist, and I split time between two clinics in Portland. One of them is Optimal Results Physical Therapy and the other one is Evolution Healthcare and Fitness.
I work a lot with runners. I partnered with a podiatrist in town, and we founded a course called Natural Running for All. We've given over a hundred running clinics where we work on people’s running form and foot mechanics to reduce their likelihood of injury.
I used to be a competitive ultimate Frisbee player, so I also work as the strength and conditioning coach for the Portland Stags, which is an ultimate Frisbee team.
What kinds of patients do you see in your clinical work?
Because I'm known for running and foot and ankle mechanics, and ultimate Frisbee, my patient load probably skews toward the younger, more active population than the average therapist, but I don't specialize in that.
Last week I saw someone who just had a hip replacement. She has arthritis in her hips. For a long time she’s been trying to get strong, be mobile. She's trying to get her life back, and we have to start small. In the next session I might see somebody who is a runner at the University of Portland. They’re training for their upcoming cross-country season, and they're at a much higher level. Next it's somebody who sits at their desk all day and their neck and shoulders hurt because they're not moving enough.
Is there one common thread that runs through all your physical therapy work?
My mission is to help people embrace an active lifestyle for their entire life span. It's going to look different for different people, but that power of movement and regular movement is what I hope to help people understand – that they can nourish themselves, feed themselves, in terms of their health. If we get that right, that can be a monumental gift for them and their family. That long-term perspective is really where I come from.
How did the UW physical therapy doctorate program prepare you for the work you do today?
The foundational matter was really good. One thing that stands out is anatomy. Working in the cadaver labs, looking at the bodies and getting an inside picture of this incredible movement system that we have.
The other thing I really took away from was just the mix of people in our class. There were some people who went in straight from undergraduate. A whole different subset of people had done something else first, like me.
There was no cookie-cutter approach. We all collaborated together and tried to solve things in different ways. That variety in our class showed me that there's a lot of different ways to approach people and approach what we do.
When you started the program, did you know you wanted to do orthopedic work?
Going in, because I had had a sports background, I had a feeling that I might end up doing orthopedic work. But one of the things I really enjoyed about the University of Washington program is that it has a balanced approach. Some schools want to focus on, let's say, orthopedic outpatient therapy and not as much on other things. But the UW program gave me exposure to neuro PT, urgent care, geriatrics. All of that was really great. I didn’t know where I was going to end up, but by the end I found an opportunity to work at Olympic Physical Therapy in Seattle in an outpatient orthopedic group. Then I moved back to Portland a year after that and continued in the outpatient realm.
Can you tell us a little more about your work with the Portland Stags?
I use evidence-based tests that look at how players are moving and where their issues are. We use algorithms, comparing two like athletes to see who's at a higher likelihood for injury and who needs extra attention to their core strength, mobility or stability and motor control. We take the whole team through that battery, and we get metrics to look at who needs more attention to keep them on the field, keep them healthy.
What do you enjoy most about being a physical therapist?
Every hour, it's a new present that I get to open, and we try to figure it out together. That's what makes physical therapy so much fun. This person who has a hip replacement is not the same as another person who has a hip replacement. You have to work together as a team to figure out the right angles to take. That's why I love what I do. It's a joy.