I had posted this elsewhere until I found this alternatives page. Just wanted to share some of these personal experiences.
I really went around the block with my back problems (seems like every traditional medical approach, except surgery) without much help. Finally, went to a physiatrist (rehab specialist) who was able to diagnose an SI joint problem in addition to the bulging disks. He's a doctor that does actual hands on manipulation, if needed. He adjusted me and I felt great relief. Physiatrists are probably the best starting place in my opinion.
My SI joint actually gets "stuck" sometimes and that's when my lower back really hurts. Since, I know what the problem is, I found a chiropractor that can adjust me when it gets stuck. Not all know how to do this.
My lower back still hurts/aches but this helps a lot. In addition, I found an incredible rolfer and physical therapist who did hands on manipulation, too. They were able to tell me about ways in which my body had adapted to the injury that actually make the pain worse. For instance, when my hamstrings get too tight, it pulls on my SI and lower back. So, I keep them stretched and loose. Plus, lower back exercises.
Exercise (rather hard kind like running and weights) have helped tremendously. It took me years to figure that out since I hurt so much, it seemed counterintuitive to train hard. I was afraid to try. When I exercise, I feel much better. But, I had to learn which exercises were helpful and safe and which were not. I worked with a good trainer at first.
Acupuncture got me feeling great. Enough to go on a long hiking trip. But it did not "hold" for me and the pain came back. It's expensive and time consuming so I don't think I would do it again unless I had a special trip planned.
Steroid injections worked but only "held" for a short time.
I had TERRIBLE sciatic pain. Went to a naturopath/chiropractor who said that he could adjust my back and give me relief but it would come back because it is a structural issue. But, the sciatic pain was due to my gallbladder meridian. He gave me some herbs (capsules) which I took and the pain went away and never came back! This was 3 yrs ago.
I share this to encourage people to try alternatives. My experience was that you have to find a really good alternative doctor or other person. I went to several PT's before I found the ones that could help. 2 different rolfers. Several chiropractors (most did not help at all). But, when you find those REALLY good at what they do, it is a tremendous help.
Wow, that was long.