Understanding the head and shoulders pattern in forex trading: A comprehensive guide

Learn how to identify trend reversals and maximise forex trading profits by using the head and shoulders pattern.

By Ahmed Azzam | @3zzamous | 18 July 2023

9 July _ How to Trade the Head and Shoulders Pattern
  • Head and shoulders pattern is a reliable reversal pattern in forex trading that indicates the end of the current price trend

  • In addition to the head and shoulder peaks, the neckline is a crucial part of the anatomy of the pattern as it confirms the reversal in the trend

  • Variations of the head and shoulders pattern include the inverse head and shoulders and the complex head and shoulders pattern

  • The pattern offers a potential entry opportunity especially during pullbacks when the price has broken through the neckline

In the world of forex trading, technical analysis plays a crucial role in identifying potential market trends and making informed trading decisions. Reversal patterns are one of the indicators that traders can use to spot changes in the existing trends and decide when to enter the market.

One widely recognised and extensively studied reversal pattern is the head and shoulders pattern. Regarded as one of the most reliable chart patterns, the head and shoulders pattern offers traders an opportunity to identify potential trend reversals and profit from them.

In this comprehensive guide, we will look at the basics of the head and shoulders pattern and learn to understand its formation, significance, and how it can be effectively used in forex trading.

Anatomy of the head and shoulders pattern

Head and shoulders pattern is a visual representation of a trend reversal characterised by three peaks, with the central peak, or the head, being the highest and the surrounding peaks, the shoulders, being nearly equally high on either side. It resembles a human head and shoulders, hence the name. The pattern is formed after an extended uptrend and signifies a potential shift in market sentiment from bullish to bearish.

Left shoulder: The pattern formation begins with an initial peak, referred to as the left shoulder. This peak represents the last attempt of the buyers to push the price higher before the trend loses momentum.

Head: Following the left shoulder, there is a higher peak known as the head. This peak is usually the highest point of the entire pattern. It indicates the buyers' final push, but the failure to sustain the upward momentum hints at an impending reversal.

Right shoulder: After the head, there is a subsequent peak, known as the right shoulder. It’s usually lower than the head but often similar in height to the left shoulder. The right shoulder indicates a weak attempt by the buyers to resume the uptrend.

Neckline: The horizontal line drawn by connecting the lows of the left shoulder, head, and right shoulder is called the neckline. It acts as a crucial level of support and resistance. The confirmation of the head and shoulders pattern occurs when the price breaks below the neckline. This break is typically accompanied by an increase in trading volume, adding weight to the pattern's validity.

Head and shoulders pattern

Types of head and shoulders patterns

While the classic head and shoulders pattern described above is the most common, variations can occur, each with its own significance. These variations include:

Inverse head and shoulders: This pattern is a mirror image of the classic head and shoulders pattern. It occurs after a downtrend and indicates a potential reversal to an uptrend.

Complex head and shoulders: The complex pattern consists of multiple smaller peaks and troughs within the formation, making it more intricate. It suggests a more extended consolidation phase before the reversal occurs.

Head and shoulders trading strategies and entry points

Successful trading using the head and shoulders pattern relies on accurate identification and proper execution. Let’s look at some keys things to consider when trading the head and shoulders pattern.

Entry point: Traders often wait for the price to break below the neckline, which serves as a confirmation signal. Once the break occurs, they look for opportunities to enter short positions, aiming to profit from the anticipated downtrend.

Stop loss and take profit: Placing a stop loss above the right shoulder helps limit potential losses if the pattern fails. The take profit level can be estimated by measuring the vertical distance from the head to the neckline and projecting it downward from the neckline break.

Volume confirmation: An increase in trading volume during the neckline break enhances the pattern's validity. It signifies a strong shift in market sentiment and adds conviction to the trade.

Pullback entry: In some cases, after the neckline break, the price may retest the neckline before continuing its downward movement. This presents an opportunity to enter a short position at a better price during the pullback.

How to trade head and shoulders pattern

When the price breaks below the neckline in a head and shoulders pattern, it’s considered a confirmation of the potential trend reversal. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to trade the pattern when the price breaks the neckline:

  1. Confirm the break: Wait for a clear and decisive break of the neckline. This break should be accompanied by a significant increase in trading volume, which adds validity to the pattern. A confirmed break means that the price has moved below the neckline and suggests a shift in market sentiment from bullish to bearish.
  2. Retest of the neckline: After the initial break, it’s common for the price to retest the neckline from below. This presents an opportunity to enter a trade at a better price during the pullback. Wait for the price to retest the neckline but ensure that it does not break back above it. The retest acts as a confirmation that the neckline is now acting as resistance.
  3. Entry point: Once the price confirms the retest and starts moving down again, consider entering a short position. This means selling the currency pair or taking a bearish position on the instrument you are trading. You can enter a trade at the current market price or use a limit order to enter at a specific price level that you choose.
  4. Stop loss: To manage risk, place a stop loss order above the right shoulder of the pattern. This level acts as a potential invalidation point for the pattern. If the price moves above the right shoulder, it suggests the pattern has failed, and it's advisable to exit the trade to limit potential losses.
  5. Take profit: Determine a target price for taking profits on the trade. One common approach is to measure the vertical distance from the head to the neckline and project it downward from the neckline break. This measurement provides an estimation of the potential downward movement. However, you can also use other technical analysis tools, such as support levels or Fibonacci extensions to identify potential profit targets.
  6. Monitor the trade: Once the trade is executed, it's important to monitor it closely. Keep an eye on price movements, market conditions, and any new developments that may affect the trade. Consider adjusting the stop loss and take profit levels if necessary to protect profits or limit losses as the trade progresses.
The head and shoulders pattern is a visual representation of market psychology, revealing the battle between bulls and bears. It serves as a powerful tool for traders, offering valuable insights into potential trend reversals and opportunities for profit