Concussion is a well-recognized clinical entity; however, its pathophysiologic basis remains a mystery. One unresolved issue is whether concussion is associated with lesser degrees of diffuse structural change seen in severe traumatic brain injury, or is the mechanism entirely caused by reversible functional changes. This issue is clouded not only by the lack of critical data, but also by confusion in terminology, even in contemporary literature. This confusion began in ancient times when no distinction was made between the transient effects of concussion and severe traumatic brain injury. The first clear separate recognition of concussion was made by the Persian physician, Rhazes, in the 10th century. Lanfrancus subsequently expanded this concept as brain "commotion" in the 13th century, although other Renaissance physicians continued to obscure this concept. By the 18th century, a variety of hypotheses for concussion had emerged. The 19th century discovery of petechial hemorrhagic lesions in severe traumatic brain injury led to these being posited as the basis of concussion, and a similar logic was used later to suggest diffuse axonal injury was responsible. The neuropathology and pathophysiology of concussion has important implications in neurology, sports medicine, medicolegal medicine, and in the understanding of consciousness. Fresh approaches to these questions are needed and modern research tools, including functional imaging and experimental studies of ion-channel function, could help elucidate this puzzle that has evolved over the past 3,000 years.