I have had 2 herniated discs.
I go into considerable detail about them because I had surgery for the first one and not for the 2nd.
The first one over 20 years ago when I did minimal working out and occasional jogging started bulging and putting me in extreme pain. I was put on bed rest for 3 months (the worst possible recommendation) and was told I could never jog again. I went to the top physical therapist in Houston.
After a couple of years, I tried to start gently jog again and within two weeks the disc herniated and it was extremely painful to walk or sit down. I went to one of the top back surgeons in the US (located in Houston)who said I needed surgery.
His idea was to clean out the inside of the disc. He ended up operating twice within a week b/c he thought he may not have cleaned it out completely and some debris was left on a nerve. Whereas before the surgery, I suffered from extreme pain shooting down my right leg, I now suffered shooting pains down my left leg that grew increasingly worse. I was now living in Hartford Connecticut and I went to the best physical therapist there --helped not a whit.
I then moved to Baltimore Md. After several variants of osteopaths etc., and increasing pain to the point that I was unable to sit down literally, my new internist recommended this physical therapist that was well-regarded in Baltimore -- the one that all the doctors themselves went to.
Though Houston is an outstanding medical center, Baltimore is the top in the country because of Johns Hopkins Medical Center. The level of care here -- where I still live is incredible. Except for various very specific areas -- Hopkins is #1 or #2 in nearly every medical problem. It is the best city to grow old in.
The Baltimore physical therapist was able to diagnose immediately the cause of my pain. as a result of the surgery which cleaned out the herniated disc on the lower right of my back, there was an imbalance between the two vertebrae around it, causing the vertebrae to tilt down to the right.
As a result my standing and moving about would cause the vertebrae to rotate out on the left side and press on nerves. The solution, he said, was to train my back muscles in the area to push in and keep in place that vertebrae. 3 times a week for 2 years, I went in while he put my body through certain routines to train the muscles to hold the vertebrae place. I would occasionally have attacks of pain when I moved in some jerky movement but seeing him I had instant relief.
Over time the sessions were cut back to two/week then one a week and then as needed if I did something jerky -- but it usually only need a couple of weeks of sessions with him before I was pain free.
This physical therapist also said I absolutely had to start working out -- and sent me to a trainer whom he treated for her own back problems and that is when I started lifting weights. It was very light then as she was not really body builder-oriented but I developed some "tone" etc. but over time I gradually moved to lifting heavier and heavier until i was doing full-fold body building lifting. I was training with Swolecat (RIP), etc.
My physical therapist intimated that the herniated disc could have been dealt with without surgery, though he did not want to directly criticize my having surgery. He also suspected that I would never be able to travel far from a major city because of the risk of attacks. 4 years after he started treating me, I never had an attack again.
10 years later, I herniated another disc. In this instance I was going to follow his advice and not get surgery and just go to him (and he had a brilliant woman who worked with him who did a lot of the therapy.) He also sent me to physiotrist (sp?) who use to be a bodybuilder himself.
An MRI showed that this time the disc that herniated was on the side. The physiotrist looking at my x-rays said I now had degenerative disc disorder and that disc was going to pop sometime -- it wasn't my working out that caused it. (He showed me the xrays and explained everything.)
I was in excruciating pain but I could not take a break from work for critical reasons. So for 3 months, I was on some pain pills, A tens unit at night (which sends little electric currents through patches on my back) and during the day I wore a lidocaine patch to numb the pain in the area.
I went to physical therapy twice a week for 3 months -- at this point I so trusted my physical therapists and I was so overwhelmed by stuff going on at work that I did not get in detail exactly how they were treating me.
3 month later the pain was gone, I was off the lidocaine patches, tens unit and pain pills. And I started back to lifting weights and getting back to where I was before the 2nd herniated disc
I am female and was 40 years old when the 1st herniated disc happened and I was 59 when the 2nd one happened.
Older studies have shown that people who have surgery for back problems fair no better than those who don't. I am not up on the more recent studies.
Bottom line for me is don't have the surgery but have one h*ll of a physical therapist and physiotrist.
But honestly, I have been through a fair number of physical therapists in many cities -- I have a knack for finding who is the best in any medical situation -- and I will tell you -- my 2 PTs that I work with (I am getting older so more problems come up) -- I have never seen or heard of any that come close to them.
But even without a great PT... with pain management -- you should recover in 3 to 4 months and then get back to lifting weights. But build gradually.
Hope this helps.