I've been away from the forum for awhile and after catching up on all the threads I thought I might share my thoughts - really my surgeon and PTs thoughts that I have completely bought into.
First - my history: Sep 08 severly herniated L5 and discovered grade 1 spondy of L5 over S1. Started PT and tons of meds: Mobic, Tramadol, Neurontin and Valium. I struggled with just about everything - could not even enjoy sitting at the dinner table with family. Had surgury (TLIF Fusion) scheduled twice and cancelled both times.
Today: Off all meds except Neurontin - will eventually stop that one soon. Only take occasional motrin and when I really overdue it a tramadol, but I am especially mindful of my limitations. What has helped tremendously was an aggressive core stengthing program as well as stretching. Like many of you my levels above L5 became stiff and very painful and I could not figure out what caused this. My PT and Surgeon told me that Muscles are major generators of pain and when they are stiff look out - especailly the spinal muscles. So I incorporated stretches I never thought I would ever be able to do - and over time muscles loosened up and pain eased up as well. I recently purchased a Homedics Shiatsu Message Pillow (best 39 bucks I've ever spent) that I use twice a day on my neck, shoulders and entire back - this has loosened things up even more and eliminated even more pain. I know this might be hard to buy into - it was for me as I had truly thought I was doing every exercise and stretch that would help and I truly thought I was in great shape - I was wrong. I encourage everyone to google core stengthing exercises - slowly incorporate them into your routine and that Homedics Pillow will help a ton. Good Luck to everyone. All the best, Mike.