Back questions...

i am 6'1" and i weigh 176 pounds, so I doubt any weight loss would help me. as far as muscle tone and exercise, i used to regularly work out. i havent been doing nearly as much lately cause of the pain. still strong though since my job keeps me pretty active. my priorities have changed a lot recently. i wont be lifting so much to add size anymore. now it will be more for flexibility and health instead. lifting as much as i used to back in high school and for a few years after graduation probably caused or worsened my condition.
wow. i didn't realize how expensive the decent inversion tables cost. i wish i could try before i bought one. anyone know where to find good ones cheap? if i knew it would work for me, i would pay thousands. but if it doesnt i dont wanna be stuck with even a 300 dollar thing that i cant use. i found that teeter hang-ups seem to be decent quality. and they advertise a 30 day money back guarantee. thats probably my best option for now. except that was on ebay. to get the 30 day guarantee, i would need to pay 400 from the actual manufacturer. this stinks. the stamina brand at sams club has bad reviews everywhere unfortunayely.
You can buy a brand new table for less than $150 shipped off ebay. The main thing to look for is the weight capacity and that you don't exceed it. If the auction doesn't list it, don't buy it. An inversion table is a simple device that works on balance when set up properly to your height and weight. My friend has one of those $700 name brand ho professional inversion tables that he let me borrow for several months before I decided to buy mine. Main difference was that his has foam boot type things that you have to clamp onto your feet and then you stand on the platform and hook the boots to bar before leaning back. It's a hassle and they are painful after a while. With my table, you stand on the platform, pull a lever and foam lined clamps automatically hold onto your ankles. Much easier and way more comfortable. There is no way I'd trade my less than $200 table for his $700 table. I've been using mine for years (it's never become a coat rack) and it still works as smoothly as the day it arrived.
The only bad thing I can say about mine is that when you're done you have to bend over again to pull the release lever to undo the ankle cuffs. If something goes wrong when you're done and you can't reach that lever, you're screwed...believe me I know this. When you use it make sure someone is home at the time or keep a cordless phone on you.

If you get one start off slow and set the machine up right. You should not have to do anything other than move your arms up and down to make the table move. They also have a safety tether that you can use to allow you to go back only so far. I usually use it for doing inverted sit-ups.
Also check with your doctor before buying one as you don't need to make a certain condition worse. And if you have any bloodpressure/heart issues do NOT buy one.
This is what happens when you try to drive a CBR1000 under a semi.

Considering the initial prognosis was that I would never walk again, I gladly live with pain.

Check out the bottom two bolts - it's been like that a little over a year. I can hear them creaking if I'm in a real quiet environment. Doc says it's fine that way - time will tell.

turbo, thanks for that info. what brand is yours so i can get one similar? i appreciate your response as well as all the others. and johnnycrash, holy s#%$ thank you for that photo. sometimes we all need a reality check of what others may be going through to make us realize that we can deal with what is going on with ourselves. some things in my spine are messed up, but i was never given a prognosis like yours and had to recover through it. congratulations on your continued mobility. i hope it stays ok. they must have ran out of the good bolts, and just used some harley ones to finish up the bottom of the repair or something! incredible what they can do surgically these days.
they must have ran out of the good bolts, and just used some harley ones to finish up the bottom of the repair or something!
Harley bolts: that WOULD explain it!

Actually they are billet Ti and the biggest the doc had available - I already questioned him on that once I saw the X-rays. Look like the same ones SAMBUSA has, just more of them.

Good luck with your dilemna - ANY back pain at all can make life miserable.
I went through all of the things everyone has tried. IT finaly got to the point that I wasn't able to even get out of my bed. I opted for the surgery and that solved things. I still have to be careful and I still get some aches sometimes but nothing like before.
Let me guess:

L4-5 herniated
L5-S1 degenerative

This is common for heavy lifting over years. I have a bulged L3-L4, ruptured L4-L5 (30% of it was removed but is now leaking badly), and only about 40% of L5-S1 remaining.

There are a bunch of short-term options. There is even some pain management options. Spinal discs NEVER heal. They can scar up, but they will never ever heal in your life time. There is no blood supply to the discs. If L5-S1 is degenerative you have two options to get it fixed, fusion or replacement. Both require removing the disc. Fusion should be a last resort. Replacement discs are not good options for lower spine. They aren't made to handle the abuse that we tend to put our backs through. Fusion will put more stress on the discs above and below a removed disc. On L5-S1 fusion won't effect flexibility as much as any other disc. L4-L5 will cost much in loss of flexibility. The ball cage approach looks like the best "current" option for L4-L5.

L4-L5 was trimmed just over two years ago, and it's time to get it looked at again. They can't take any more out and still have enough to keep the vertebrae from touching when I lean back.

Work with a doctor that will listen to your concerns, and offer several options. Ask the Doc to list the options from best to worst risk for your situation. Everybody is different. You may have to look around to find the option that looks best for you.
thanks truwrecks, i have done a lot of research on the condition, and now have to research some knowledgeable dr.s .