Winter snowfalls can bring shoveling-related injuries.

Sandra Hunter, a professor of exercise science and director of the Athletic and Human Performance Research Center at Marquette University in Milwaukee, offered tips on how to reduce the possibility of hurting yourself when interacting with Mother Nature.

Hunter, who has been looking at exercise injuries for 20 years, said a back injury is one of the biggest problems that can occur with shoveling. It's often made worse by the fact that it's often not until the next day that you realize you've strained your back or irritated one of your vertebrae.

Hunter offered some tips to stay safe:

• Prepare. It's no secret when inclement weather is coming. Salt your driveway before the snow arrives so you don't have to shovel as much.

• Pick the proper clothing. Dress as you would for skating or skiing in the cold. Think layers.

• Warm up first. Shoveling is exercise, and you should warm up for it just as you would before doing any exercising. "It doesn't have to take long," she said. Even just doing a few jumping jacks or going up and down some stairs will help.

• Look into getting an ergonomic shovel. They have contoured handles, which reduce the bending you have to do.

• "Push the snow rather than trying to lift it," Hunter said. "If, however, you do have to lift, make sure that you are bending your knees and lifting the snow with your legs and not your back."

• Avoid twisting while throwing the snow because it will transfer the load from your legs to your back. "Tighten your abdominal muscles before you lift. If you do that, it's really hard to twist, and you really protect your vertebrae."

• Take breaks and keep hydrated. "It's amazing how quickly you overheat and become dehydrated," Hunter added.

• Heed your body's signals. "Some people have had heart attacks while shoveling; it's not uncommon," Hunter said. "If you have shortness of breath, chest discomfort or discomfort down your left arm, definitely do something about that." She said not to endure pain and say, "I'll just finish this."

• Don't risk a head injury. Concussions are probably the biggest injuries Hunter has seen. Black ice is especially tricky, she said. "To negotiate ice, you've got to keep flat feet, take small steps, and keep your feet wide apart, so you have a big base of support," Hunter said. "And footwear is huge in terms of having some sort of grip. Any type of movement on ice is going to predispose people to injury."