Herniated Disc Resolved with Physical Therapy and Lifestyle Modifications

What is your story about?
At age 26 I was diagnosed with a herniated disc. The pain was debilitating, such that it affected and limited every aspect of my life. I chose not to pursue surgery, and followed a rehab program that ultimately helped me to start recovering in around 9 months. Combined with activity modifications, I'm now mainly pain free.
What symptoms did you experience and how did they progress over time?
In 2013, I experienced sciatica, pain in left leg, numbness, and inability to stand for longer than 3 minutes. My injury came by perpetual incorrect spinal positioning and loading. Terrible posture while half-laying in a computer chair, incorrect form when lifting heavy weights, and weak spinal muscles in general.
What was your diagnosis process like?
I was diagnosed with disc herniation in February 2013. At the time, I was 26. It's a shakingly terrifying feeling when they tell you you have a life-long injury and you must reconsider your daily activities. You can't walk or even stand straight for longer than a few minutes. You have to change the way you wash your hair, sit, pick things up, carry groceries. When, sorry for getting a little personal here, you can't be active in sex, because it's painful even to move your pelvis. All of this makes for a terrifying feeling.
Did you consider surgery?
I've never considered surgery as an option. Firstly, my doctor didn't suggest it. Secondly, when choosing between a painful, long, time and money consuming nonsurgical option vs intrusion into my spinal cord, I always go for the no-butchery scenario. Of course, if the doctor said that I should immediately lay down on the table and take my shirt off, I'd probably... ask another doctor. And a third one. And only when I get three professional opinions advocating for surgery would I do it.
What was your experience with physical therapy?
At first, I went to State clinics. They just kept me doing physiotherapy and applied an electric current to the skin of my spine (TENS). I did this for 3 months, but saw no results. I then decided to ditch State medicine and went to a private clinic. I spent a bunch of money and six months there. I found the physio to be more effective than the State clinic. I did spine stretching in a pool, and also they smeared me with some magical shark's extract, idk what it was.
How long did it take to recover?
One of neurologists who I spoke to told me one interesting thing: "It doesn't really matter how you treat disk herniation, all you do is just removing symptoms and eliminating the pain. And the protruded part of the disk will be 'eaten by lymphocytes' eventually, so just stretch your spine, don't stress your wound and it will go away". And it did - in November '13 I started noticing I could stand for longer periods. I could actually walk without needing to stop and sit on the curb. In December '13 I finally became pain-free.
Have you been able to fully resume activities?
The herniation still isn't healed - it actually can't be fully healed. So I better not carry things heavier than a cat, no running, no jumping, no vertical pressure on the spine. I feel some pain in lower back from time to time but it's just a weak pressure reminding me to stop what I'm doing wrong and reconsider my spinal position. As for legs - yeah, weighted squats aren't an option, but pistol squats, Bulgarian splits, platform step-ups all are. They say, you can only understand you loved something when it's taken from you. I didn't liked walking before my injury - now I do. I walk a lot, ...(more)
What advice would you give others with your condition?
Your only star in the sky is your doctor, he's the master and he's the one who calls the shots. In terms of activities, swimming is a great choice. Pistol squats aren't going to be a problem due to the fact that flexion is happening at the knees and hips, which have nothing to do with the back. Personally, I'm trying to do them and have no troubles at all. Also, strengthen your back, it's always a win. And before doing situps or hyperextensions consult with a qualified healthcare professional. For me, it was better to keep my back straight.