Well, I finally got to see the specialist today. I knew I would be waiting for a bit, since I got there at 3:30 and my appointment wasn't until 4:15, but when 5:15 came and I still hadn't seen the doctor yet, I began to get skeptical.
When the doctor came in to the room, he asked me about the symptoms I have had and about the degree of the pain. When I gave him the dirt, he did all the same range of motion exercises the primary care doctor did a few weeks ago. After all that, he told me that after looking at the MRI images (he referred to them as X-rays), he did see a bulging/ruptured disc in the T11/12 area, but that none of the symptoms aside from the pain were related.
So now I'm wondering what's causing the numbness, digestive issues, and shaking, but I know from the educated professional that it's not related to my back. But you're probably thinking, "What's the treatment plan?" Basically, there is none. That's right, nothing can or will be done for the back pain. But why? Quite simple, actually: The ruptured disc is in a very tricky area of the spine that would lead to near-certain disability or further complication if surgery were performed. Not only that, but the rupture is not to blame for any of the other issues I'm having, so it would be pointless to do anything about it in that case.
The doctor said that the pain will be a chronic issue throughout the rest of my life, but to just rely on basic treatments for it (ice, heat, over-the-counter painkillers) and take it easy when it does flare up. He said that I will most certainly "throw out" my back from seemingly normal tasks, but that when I do I should just fall back to those basic treatments and kick back to light duty until I recover. Chiropractic care was not ruled out, but I'm going to opt for that only sparingly.
Also, I have been cleared to return to the gym, but only if I stay away from the free weights and anything that will put excessive pressure on my lower back. I am also to work on back extension exercises to strengthen the supporting muscles. Otherwise, it's time for me to get back to normal.