Darren McGregor says his head would have exploded if he had been told the early-season abdominal injury he suffered was likely to sideline him for almost four months.
A slight niggle he felt in only the second Premiership match was dismissed by the veteran Hibs defender but only a few days later the pain went from “zero to 100” in a split second, leaving medics baffled as they sought to identify exactly what was wrong.
The possibility of a hernia was quickly ruled out as was damage to his psoas, a big, strong muscle within his abdomen, McGregor revealing he ended up questioning himself as different opinions mounted up.
“They were telling me they didn’t know what was wrong with me,” said the 34-year-old. “I was fine walking but every time I went to run or do anything explosive it felt like someone jabbing me with a screwdriver.”
McGregor, who suffered two cruciate ligament injuries which limited him to only 12 games in two seasons while with St Mirren, admitted dealing with the uncertainty was difficult even when the injury was finally diagnosed.
“It’s something called your inguinal nerve, it runs into your groin,” he said. “But Nathan Ring (Hibs physio) has worked at a high level and has seen a lot of similar type issues.
“Gary Dicker at Kilmarnock had something similar and he had that pain for two months but he managed it, did the work and said it just disappeared eventually.
“I’ve dealt with injuries where there has been a timescale – after four weeks you’ll be running, six weeks you can twist and turn, eight weeks is impact and so on.
“But this was all about doing core stuff. The sheet Nathan wrote out with different exercises was half the size of the table I am sitting at. The theory is if your abductors, glutes and abs are weak then the pressure they should be taking will go somewhere else.
“So, if you strengthen them it alleviates that pressure. I did that for six weeks, went out to run and I was still in pain. I did it for another two or three weeks and it was better, but I still couldn’t sprint.
“Then maybe four or five weeks ago I seemed to get over the top of the hill and I feel fine. I am still aware of it, but it’s so much more manageable than it was before.”
Not having a set timetable was difficult but McGregor believes Ring, pictured, dealt with that brilliantly. He said: “Nathan was intelligent in the way he did it. He never actually said to me when I would start to feel better again. He said he’d seen it before and it was around 12 to 14 weeks. I am at 15 weeks now and was free of most of the pain at 12 weeks. He just didn’t want to tell me that because I think my head would have exploded if I had thought I’d be out for three months for what was, at the time, just a pain in my abdomen.
“If it didn’t work out I didn’t know what the alternative would be – an injection, an operation. I don’t know. I need to take my hat off to Nathan because it could have been nasty if I had to have an operation.”
McGregor puts being “run ragged” as tonight’s opponents Rangers hammered Hibs 6-1 at Ibrox in August as the cause of his injury. He revealed: “During the last 15 minutes there was a slight awareness, but you always get tweaks and niggles and never pay much attention until you feel something pop or feel intense pain. So I got treatment, but a few days later we played Morton and I miscontrolled a ball – which isn’t like me.
“And then I felt a sharp pain. The next minute I went to play a diagonal pass and the pain went from zero to 100 straight away. I knew at the time it was quite severe.”
McGregor admitted his previous experience of long-term injury had helped the “hard old shift” of regaining full fitness.
“It’s just about getting the head down,” he said. “The older you get, the more you appreciate football and the career that you’ve got. When you are injured it’s effectively stealing games off you. That’s where it can become really frustrating and it can start playing with your emotions.
“But the older I’ve got the more I’ve realised how to separate that and try to stay away from letting results or injuries dictate how you feel outside the game.”
A new addition to the McGregor family, son Ray born at the beginning of October to join four-year-old Leah and Max, two, was a welcome distraction even given the sleepless nights.
“It gives you perspective but motivation to do well for them as well,” he said. “I’m bad sometimes for not letting anyone come to the game if I’m not playing.
“I don’t want them to come and say, ‘where’s daddy?’ They aren’t asking why I am not playing, but I just feel bad I’m not out there, that I can’t look up and wave to them.
“Erin (his wife) said I shouldn’t be so stupid, that they enjoy coming whether I’m playing ot not. They aren’t actually interested in me playing.
“Miah and Max love it. Max absolutely loves football. All he talks about is Hibees. Hibs as a club is great at looking after them. It’s like a creche when they come in. We just come here for free childcare.”
l Darren McGregor was speaking at the latest SPFL Trust Festive Friends event. Find out more at spfltrust.org.uk/festivefriends