Millions of people are diagnosed with concussions each year.
In addition to immediate concerns like headaches, dizziness, and fatigue, concussions have been linked with long-term health issues, like depression, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and even Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
But progress in treatment has been hampered by a small problem: No one can seem to agree on what exactly a concussion is.
Many neuroscience researchers define a concussion as a specific minor brain injury.
But the fancy equipment necessary to detect minor brain injuries is mostly confined to specialty research labs.
So instead, when doctors evaluate patients who've recently knocked their noggins, they diagnose based on symptoms like: their short-term memory, their vision, and their coordination.
If you have too many of those symptoms, they'll diagnose you with a concussion and send you home with the advice to rest, avoid bright lights, and essentially wait to recover.
But many concussion-related symptoms aren't necessarily the result of a brain injury.
A headache could actually be the result of a neck injury; dizziness a consequence of an inner-ear problem; and unexpected fatigue could be due to emotional trauma, or even a symptom of preexisting depression rather than recent injury.
All of these issues have their own separate treatments that are overshadowed when the diagnosis is "concussion."
It's kind of like if a doctor were to diagnose you with "chest pain" and prescribe a generic treatment without determining if the pain is coming from your heart, your lungs, or your ribs.
And even when the symptoms are caused by a brain injury, there's a small chance the injury could be more severe than a concussion diagnosis implies.
Some dangerous injuries, like subdural hematomas, can present the same symptoms as concussions, and may thus be missed by routine tests—especially when they don't include brain scans.
So if the diagnosis of "concussion" isn't really working—and may even be putting people at risk—why do we still use it?
It's partly because a concussion is simpler—doctors can ask a few questions, diagnose the patient with a concussion, send them home, and move on, and in lots of cases, the patient will be fine.
It's partly because a simple diagnosis benefits influential sports organizations, who like that athletes with concussions can be cleared to return to play much sooner than if they were diagnosed with a more severe injury.
And, it's partly because the confusion around the term "concussion" mucks up the available data, so we don't exactly know how big of a problem it is.
If doctors had to make more specific diagnoses, and potentially even ditched the term "concussion" altogether, then researchers would have better data to work with.
And patients could potentially get better treatment—all of which would help us deal with one of our literal biggest headaches.
We just made a new show!
It's about the human body, and it's called MinuteBody.
I mean, what else would we call it?
Each episode takes you on a minute-long tour of a different body part.
There's one about muscles, one about kidneys and one about poop.
Ok, poop's not a body part, but, you know us, we made a video about it anyway.
The show is primarily for kids, but adults seem to like it too.
We're launching it on Nebula, a new streaming platform built by and for independent educational creators so we can try out new ideas that might not work on YouTube.
Nebula is usually three bucks a month [3 USD], but now Nebula has partnered with CuriosityStream.
If you sign up for a free one-month trial with CuriosityStream at curiositystream.com/minute, you get a Nebula subscription bundled in for free!
That means that you'll not only get to watch MinuteBody, along with all of our friends' Nebula shows, you'll also get access to thousands of CuriosityStream documentaries, like Whale Wisdom and Small Cats Unknown.
So go to curiositystream.com/minuteearth and get watching!