OP: Although I’m pretty young (21) and NOT a doctor, I herniated my L4/L5 two years ago and had micro-herniations in three other discs running up the spine. Stellar, I know. I was born with a spinal defect (crack in the vertebrae) which caused an unequal distribution of pressure on the discs. Heavy squatting and deadlifting at a low body weight tore the disc apart. Anyway, after continuing to deadlift and squat AFTER the injury but prior to diagnosis, I damaged it even more. You have to get an MRI to determine the level of such an injury, it’s worth the money.
In terms of recovery, I started going to a chiropractor, which helped… at first. Eventually it just became a hassle and was not worth the money. However, after a year or so off from deadlift and squatting, my back started to get better. I then started front squatting with super light weight and perfect form to strengthen core and work my legs. Then I progressively added deadlifts with rack pulls, then off blocks, and finally (about two weeks ago), deadlifts off the floor. Note this is 2 years after the injury, and my injury was bad. Now I’m working up to front squats in the 225 range and deadlifts approaching 300 at 145 pounds (yes that’s light, but I like being “small”).
Additionally, what I’ve found extremely helpful is Dr. Stuart McGill’s work. Every single day I do his routine, over time gradually increasing the length of each hold, as he suggests certain core/lower back exercises should be increased with during/endurance rather than strength/weight. He also suggests to NOT improve the flexibility of the lower back, as this actually makes you more prone to injury. I completely agree with this. I started doing yoga last semester and my back hurt more during those 16 weeks then it had in awhile. Once I stopped, it’s much better. Anyway, look up “Enhancing Low Back Health through stabilization exercise.” Free PDF online.
Finally, note that low-back pain will never go away at this point. It’s just something you have to deal with efficiently. You get used to it. I also own a heating pad and an electrostim which helps tremendously. I try to do it once a day at least. The electrostim feels great all around the injury.
I hope that helped!
P.S. Long time reader, first time poster!