Bending your head to the side stretches your upper traps.
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The trapezius muscle group, which is also known as the traps, forms a diamond shape along your middle and upper back. The upper traps run diagonally from your shoulder to your neck. When you feel stiffness in your neck, there's a good chance your upper traps are tight. If you work for long hours at a desk, participate in sports such as football or wrestling or you're simply prone to neck stiffness, it's a good idea to stretch your upper traps regularly. Raise your core temperature with at least five minutes of light cardio activity before you stretch.
Lateral Head and Neck Stretches
Some upper trapezius stretches use your arms to help deepen the stretch. To do a lateral head and neck stretch, sit straight, face forward and place your left hand on top of your head and a bit to your right. Pull your head down gently, so your left ear moves toward your left shoulder. You can also do the stretch by angling your head about 45 degrees to the left. Repeat both stretches on your right side. Hold all the stretches for 15 to 30 seconds without bouncing.
Standing Upper Trap Stretch
To perform a standing stretch, which also works the splenius muscles along your upper spine, stand straight and extend your left arm down at your side. Reach behind your back with your right hand and grasp your left wrist. Pull your left arm gently toward your right, and simultaneously dip your head and turn your right ear toward the front of your right shoulder. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and then switch arms.
Forward Upper Trap Stretch
Perform a neck extensor stretch, which targets the upper traps but also works a variety of neck and upper-spine muscles, while you sit or stand. You'll achieve a deeper stretch while seated, however. Place both palms on the back of your head and interlock your fingers. Gently push your head forward so your chin approaches -- or touches -- your chest. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
To stretch the upper traps before a workout or athletic competition, use dynamic movements to loosen your muscles. Perform six to 10 horizontal arm swings and vertical arm circles to loosen your traps, shoulders and triceps. Although dynamic stretches help warm up your muscles, you should still do some aerobic exercise first. Never stretch cold muscles.