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If you have arthritis joint pain, you know that using a medicated gel such as Voltaren directly over the achy area can help. Like other topical gels, creams, and lotions for painful joints and muscles, Voltaren gel for arthritis is applied onto the skin for soothing relief. This pain-relief gel is available over-the-counter (OTC), meaning you won’t need a prescription from a doctor to buy it. But it’s important to remember that Voltaren contains active medicated ingredients and may not be everyone. Here’s more on using Voltaren gel for the temporary relief of arthritis joint pain.

Voltaren is the brand name for a topical pain relief gel for arthritis pain that contains the medication diclofenac sodium, its active ingredient. You might find similar gels for joint pain by the generic name of “diclofenac gel” or “diclofenac sodium gel.” However, they may not have the exact same ingredients or amounts of diclofenac as Voltaren gel. OTC Voltaren gel for arthritis pain contains a 1 percent concentration of diclofenac sodium.

Voltaren gel is used topically on the skin to provide temporary relief of joint pain. This pain remedy is recommended for treating pain and tenderness from the most common type of arthritis: osteoarthritis in the knees, hands, and other joints. Voltaren pain-relieving gel may also be used to help ease aching joints due to rheumatoid arthritis or soothe sore muscles and minor back pain.

Voltaren gel and other pain-relieving gels and creams may be a good option if you prefer to take less pain medication by mouth such as oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In higher doses, diclofenac gel is also used to treat a skin condition called actinic keratosis. However, Voltaren gel for arthritis pain does not contain a high enough concentration of the active ingredient diclofenac to be used for this condition.

A doctor may recommend trying Voltaren gel alone if you have mild to moderate arthritis pain, or using it in addition to oral medication for worse arthritis pain.

Voltaren gel contains an NSAID medication that is similar to the pain drug ibuprofen. It works by reducing substances in the body that cause pain and inflammation and works best on small joints. Voltaren topical gel is not for immediate relief and may take up to 7 days to work.

Voltaren gel for arthritis and other types of diclofenac gel may help to provide some relief for joint pain. However, it might depend on how severe your arthritis pain is. A review, which looked at 39 studies with 10,631 individuals with arthritis joint pain, found that topical diclofenac gel “can provide good levels of pain relief in osteoarthritis” for about 10 percent of people with this type of joint pain.

How well a topical gel such as Voltaren works may also depend on how much of the pain-relieving medication diclofenac sodium it contains. A research trial on how well a topical gel with 3.06 percent of diclofenac worked to ease pain due to osteoarthritis in the knee reported that the gel worked better than a placebo gel with no diclofenac at all. People in the study applied the gel twice a day for 4 weeks. Voltaren gel for arthritis pain that is available OTC contains 1 percent diclofenac. You may need a prescription to get topical gels with a higher percentage of this pain medicine.

Even OTC pain-relieving gels and other medications have powerful active ingredients and can cause side effects. Other ingredients such as perfumes and alcohol may also cause skin irritation or an allergic reaction. Use Voltaren gel for arthritis exactly as directed. Ask your doctor before you use Voltaren gel for off-label use (something for which it is not recommended).

Voltaren gel side effects may include:

  • skin irritation or itching where the gel was applied
  • skin dryness, scaling, or redness
  • skin pimples or cysts
  • hives or swelling
  • numbness and tingling
  • nausea or vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • upset stomach
  • diarrhea and bloating
When not to use Voltaren gel
  • Experiencing side effects. If you experience any of the side effects listed above or other side effects, stop using Voltaren gel immediately. Speak to a health professional if you have serious side effects or if side effects don’t go away after you stop using this medicated gel.
  • During pregnancy or nursing. Do not use Voltaren gel for arthritis if you are pregnant or nursing.
  • With heart disease. A research study also reported that you shouldn’t use diclofenac if you have a history of cardiovascular (heart) disease.
  • With severe kidney disease. Discuss with your physician priorto using Voltaren gel.

You can find Voltaren gel for arthritis pain in the pharmacy section of your local grocery store, usually in the aisle that sells pain relief medication and products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Voltaren gel as an OTC pain-reliever in 2020. It has been available in prescription strength since 2007. You still need a prescription to purchase Voltaren tablets and other forms of this product.

You can buy Voltaren gel online from many of the retailers you might shop at in-person as well as directly from the Voltaren website.

Is Voltaren gel available OTC in Canada?

You can also find Voltaren pain relief gel in pharmacies and drugstores in Canada under the same name and another version called Voltaren Emugel that has slightly different doses of diclofenac sodium and other ingredients. In some provinces, it may be behind the counter, and you will have to ask a pharmacist for it, even though you do not need a prescription to purchase.

There is a variety of topical pain medication gels and other products that you can purchase OTC. Some of these contain varying percentages of diclofenac sodium, the active ingredient in Voltaren gel for arthritis pain. Others contain different pain drugs including numbing medications.

Topical OTC analgesic products include:

Voltaren gel for arthritis pain contains 1 percent of the active ingredient diclofenac sodium and is available OTC in most pharmacies. It can help soothe pain and tenderness when applied to the skin over small joints. It may not work for everyone; talk to a doctor before using Voltaren for your arthritis pain. If Voltaren gel does not work for you, or if you experience side effects, stop using it and speak with your doctor. You may need other prescription pain medications for your arthritis joint pain.