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.
Not sure why this thread appeared on the front page 3 years after the last post, but here goes:
Hope your back is better. I suffered with nasty sciatica pain and numbness in left leg from my left buttock down to my toes for several months. Took all kinds of pain pills like candy: Vicodin, Percocet, Gabapentin, Ibuprofen, Tylenol, and more. None of them did much. Physical therapy only made my wallet thinner. BUT if your doctor recommends PT, I'd give it a chance for a few weeks to see if it helps.
I thought it was Piriformis Syndrome. Doctor gave me a cortisone shot in the piriformis area. That worked for a few days, then gradually the pain & numbness returned. Finally an MRI showed a very large disc bulge at L5/S1. Doctor prescribed Meloxicam 15mg/day. In a few weeks the pain was gone but I still have numbness/tingling in the left leg and foot, but I can live with that. I've been on Meloxicam going on 2 years now. Symptoms are the same - just numbness that I can live with. I may get the disc surgery eventually. I thought I'd try not getting it but I can see that the bulge is not going to fix itself. All the people I know who have had the surgery say it made them feel great immediately.
I do some exercises to strengthen the back/core areas. And I do not lift much with my upper body because that makes the numbness worse when the disc is squashed due to the weight load. I can carry a pack as long as the weight is on the hip belt, but I try to go lighter than before.
There are many horror stories on the internet about piriformis syndrome and sciatica - it is awful stuff. Meloxicam saved me from hell.
It's all described in the Bible at Deuteronomy 28, starting at verse 15.