serenebean, I got your e mail message about disc herniations. I'm unable to reply as it seems you are no longer on summitpost (at least I can't find you by that name). The email reply address is a no-reply address here on summitpost. It bounced back to my e mail.
I too have a bulging L5, and I have been dealing with this for about 5 years. I went to an Ortho and got an epidural and rested it for 3 weeks. I then got a killer PT who gave me a regimen of back exercises (planks, crunches, etc.), and was told it would get better after "time." 6-8 months later, I couldn't tell much difference. 10-12 months later I had the problem controlled and am still relatively pain free. The doctor said I have to do these exercises every day forever and no problem with the back, and if I quit the problem will come right back and require surgery. I stick with the program and I maintain my active lifestyle, although standing still hurts it more than anything. I do Whitney in a day-no problem with my back. I stand still for 20 minutes at a meeting and I have pain (which exercises then alleviates). Also, I have not thrown my back out since.
Just found this thread tonight; I can relate to your pain! Different part of my spine (C4 - C5) which virtually out of nowhere herniated Christmas Day 2011. I have hiked on a broken ankle down a mountain and I have had excruciating migraines but this herniation was unbearable. I couldn't sit up, sit down, stand or sleep without massive painkillers. Eventually, doctors on vacation came back from holiday vacations and I was properly diagnosed and started PT. PT didn't cure but helped me postpone surgery until I was sure that I had to have it.
Long story short, I opted for a spinal disk replacement in May 2012 and it has helped my neck and back forever. Most people go for the traditional disk fusion but my surgeon is one of a small number who does the disk replacement which has been common in Europe for years.
Look into this surgery if necessary; no bone grafting, quick in/out hospital time and far fewer risks.