My big idea: Backhug, a robot masseur and physiotherapist

It's been ten years in the making
Chongsu Lee
BackHug chair

In a world where technology is evolving faster than we can keep up with, it's no surprise that it's been making its way into healthcare. The latest example is BackHug, which is taking a massive leap by tackling a problem that plagues millions of people—back issues. So, I'm excited to introduce an innovative solution that aims to reshape the way we look at back care, making it more accessible, affordable, and effective than ever before.

A recent study revealed that a whopping 88% of adults in the UK deal with some form of back problem, which actually isn’t that unsurprising to me from my career experience in Physiotherapy. It's not just about discomfort; it's also costing the economy a staggering £10 billion annually. What's causing this surge in back problems? Well, it's a mix of factors, from the cost-of-living crisis to the changes brought about by the pandemic.

But why did I create BackHug in the first place? Let's rewind to 2013. Back then, I was knee-deep in treating patients with a laundry list of ailments—sore backs, headaches, sciatica, tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, tight hamstrings, calf issues, Achilles Tendinitis, you name it. What I discovered was that in nearly every case the key to solving their pain lay in loosening stiff joints in the back. It worked like a charm, but it was physically demanding, and I couldn't help but wonder if there was a better way.

Then, in a meeting with old friends, my mentor, Kerry dropped a game-changing idea: why not create a machine that could do what I was doing manually? This inspired me, as I had an engineering background, and I thought, "Why not?" This was the beginning of the BackHug journey.

Fast forward to 2015, and I was knee-deep in prototyping. It didn't happen overnight; it took a lot of time, effort, and engineering ingenuity. I bought springs, bolts, nuts, and a piece of wood, and with my engineering brain back in action, I started working. I was optimistic, thinking it would take a couple of months, but it took two long years, loads of money and tons of energy before I finally had my first working product in hand.

By 2017, we had our first working device, marking a significant milestone. However, it wasn't perfect, and we knew it needed improvements.

Fast forward again to today, after countless tweaks and adaptations, BackHug is born. It took eight years of development and over 2,000 changes to create a product that could do more than I ever could with my own hands.

Now, BackHug is ready and we want to change the game in back care. Picture this: a robot back therapist that you can control with a smartphone app, giving you professional-level back therapy right in the comfort of your home or workplace. The device comes with 26 robotic fingers that target the stiff joints in your back, neck, and shoulders—addressing the root cause of most pain and discomfort. It's a unique approach that sets us apart because it's tackling joint stiffness, which traditional methods often struggle with.

But here's the secret: our proprietary Back Tension Tracking tech, which measures your back tension and customizes your therapy accordingly, lets you actually see the benefits after each session. We're not just changing back care; we're changing how we understand it.

When it comes to accessibility and affordability, we know healthcare can be a maze, with waiting lists and pricey private sessions. That's why we're offering BackHug through a monthly subscription starting at just £89 (which is the cost of one or two manual sessions). Unlimited usage, and you don't even have to leave your home. We're all about making back care accessible to everyone who needs it.

We also know from our research that back problems also affect productivity, and many people take sick leave due to back pain, which impacts businesses. So, we wanted to make BackHug work for the workplace as well as in the home. Businesses can offer the device as a benefit to their employees and help reduce discomfort and sick leave.

In a nutshell, we’re not just another health-tech company. We are wanting to change the way we approach back care by blending cutting-edge tech with accessibility and affordability. Our robot physiotherapist and Back Tension Tracking tech are aiming to reshape how we treat back health on a larger scale.

Written by
Chongsu Lee
Founder of Backhug
October 13, 2023