The 33-year-old Northern Ireland international wasn’t actually on a trampoline, but was sitting watching his young son in mid-February when he suddenly seized up and later discovered the extent of the damage.
It was the latest in a series of back injuries the experienced defender has had to deal with in recent years, but he wasn’t just fearing that his season was over.
“I had doubts beyond that,” he revealed after making his return with a 15-minute cameo against Motherwell on Wednesday. “I thought I might not even play again.
“That was the first question I asked the specialist when he rang me. He reassured me that nine out of ten people get back playing so that made me a lot happier.
“But it was a strange injury. I trained on a Friday and took my son to a trampoline park and tried to stand up afterwards and my legs were just in agony.
“I wasn’t on a trampoline. It happened wherever I stood up afterwards and I could hardly walk. My son was like, what’s wrong with you? I’m near dead here, I said to him. But I’ve had back problems for about ten years now and eventually it caught up with me and one gave way.
“I got a scan and one of my discs had exploded into the nerve canal. It was just a mess in there. I was close to an operation. That would have put me out a little bit longer, but thankfully I recovered well and the specialist seems really happy, so I’m delighted.
“It was a weird injury because I couldn’t do anything about it in the gym. It was just about time to recover. I finally got the green light last week from the specialist to start playing again.”
Smith’s injury came shortly after Hearts had signed a ready-made replacement in Nathaniel Atkinson, but the idea was for both players to compete for the right wing-back position and cover each other. It hasn’t worked out like that and Smith, who is contracted to the club until the summer of 2023, found it very frustrating to miss a big chunk of a successful season.
“It’s hard,” he added. “You start the season so well and you get a mad injury like that and the boys really continued the form on the pitch. We sealed third quite early on. I was delighted for them and obviously sad that I wasn’t part of it. I was in the changing room all the time and trying to keep my spirits up.
Looking ahead to next week’s Scottish Cup final, Smith continued: “At one stage I said to the physio I was the only one injured. That was before the Dundee United away game and about five of them were in after me. It was busy, but we’re all coming back now.
“By the final we should all be back fit, obviously apart from Beni. So the gaffer will have near enough a full squad to choose from.”