First let me say welcome to our forum. We are all in the same boat here so no question is a stupid question and we always welcome any replies you may have.
My lumbar problems also started 7 yrs ago with just an annular tear at L-4/5 which is the outside lining of the disc. This can definately be painful and as far as I know they will not heal themselves. Looks like you also have bulging disc that can cause alot of problems.
I too would advise you to see a pain management doctor if possible. These doctors are trained to control pain be it with medication or injections, do make sure the pm doctor does both. I have had success with steroid injections into my bulging disc but the relief only lasted for 2 months but everyone is different. If there is any nerve issues you may find some relief from a med specifically for nerve pain such as Neurontin, which has a generic Gabapentin, or Lyrica.
When I first started out using pain medications I was using Ultram, generic is Tramadol. This is non-narcotic and can help with mild to medium pain. This could be an option for you if you are nervous about using narcotic pain meds. Also alot of people are helped with Cymbalta, a anti-depressant that is also used for pain.
I know you were seeing a sports injury specialist with little success. Sorry to hear this but a good physical therapist can help with lower back pain. They will help to strengthen the surrounding muscles to alleviate pain and teach techniques in proper posture. Maybe a different therapist could do you some good.
Hope this helps give you some ideas to discuss with your doctor. I do use narcotic pain meds and Neurontin along with a anti-spasmatic drug, Zanaflex, for muscle spasms but plain old Tylenol in small quantities still helps alot too. Good Luck and keep us updated on your progress!