I would definitely try PT before surgery, but I know a handful of people in Fort Collins who have had it (including me), and all have had good outcomes. The bulk of my pain was gone immediately after surgery and hasn't come back. For reference, prior to surgery I was on 6 vicodin a day and was still in a ton of pain. None of the drugs they gave me dulled it too much.
Exercise wise besides walking I've found some of the following to be good for my back:
- planks - both side and normal
- For even more "pain", do it in a TRX strap system or by putting your
feet on a yoga ball or something to add instability to the system and
force your core to work more. You can add in a "crunch" with the
TRX or ball to add more effort to - that is pull your knees in to your
chest or opposite elbow.
- TRX straps
I've really liked these. You have to use your core for most all
exercises. A few of the upper arm ones I've actually found to be
great for my back. Doing dynamic planks in them has been great
too. And they're easy to toss in a bag when travelling.
- "extended cat pose" I guess it's called
Extended Cat Pose: Utthita Marjaryasana Stabilizers Yoga Poses
Good for helping strengthen the lower back
- crunches on a yoga ball
- I'm not sure what it's called, but lay on your back, press the
small of the back into the floor, and pretend you're riding a bike.
the farther out you extend your legs, the bigger work out you'll get.
- At a gym, grab a weight (I like ~25-30lb) and get on a bench on your
hands and knees. Stick your left leg out as in the pose above, and with
your right hand, pick up the weight from the ground and just lift it up.
I think the extra weight and having your leg out really forces your
lower back muscles to engage and stabalize.
- And lastly, a squat. Though a squat with a weight, so a 20-30lb
weight. Hold it to your check when standing, push out when squatting.
The trainer who got me going on these last two, had me using the
weight to aid balance and help me keep my knees behind my toes.
While it definitely helped with that, I found it helped my back more
than doing squats alone.
Swimming has also been good at relaxing my back.
Good luck, hope the PT works!