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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, 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. Over-the-counter (OTC) Voltaren gel for arthritis pain contains a 1% concentration of diclofenac sodium.

Pros

  • available over the counter
  • FDA-approved, OTC pain reliever
  • topical gel may be the best option for people who do not want to take pills

Cons

  • many side effects
  • not for use on actinic keratosis, a skin condition
  • may take up to 7 days to feel any significant relief

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.

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 2016 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% 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 from 2020 on how well a topical gel with 3.06% 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% diclofenac. You may need a prescription to get topical gels with a higher percentage of this pain medicine.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Consumer Healthcare owns the rights to Voltaren Gel. GSK does not have a Better Business Bureau profile.

GSK’s Trustpilot rating is 2.7 out of 5 stars with about 20 customer reviews. One customer says that the company has “lousy and not honest client service!” Notably, the user reviews don’t mention Voltaren gel specifically.

User reviews about the actual Voltaren gel product tell a different story. On the Voltaren gel website, about 315 users rate the product 4.5 out of 5 stars. Further, 93% of users would recommend Voltaren gel to a friend. One user says, “great to have a local NSAID [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs] approach that alleviates pain without risking side effects of oral NSAIDs.”

On the other hand, another user notes that the product can be difficult to squeeze out of the tube: “I really love Voltaren. What I don’t like is the tube it’s in, I have arthritis in my hands and the tube is hard to squeeze. It would be much better in a jar of some sort.”

On Amazon, Voltaren gel also has a 4.5 out of 5-star rating and over 40,000 reviews.

Customer service is available on weekdays between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST by phone at 1-855-297-3031 or by email at Consumer.Communications@gsk.com.

I spoke to several customer service agents over the course of a few days and was usually connected to a helpful agent within a few minutes. Furthermore, customer service replied to my email requests within 1 to 2 business days.

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 prior to using Voltaren gel.

Voltaren gel may provide temporary relief from your arthritis joint pain, but there are potential risks and side effects. Talk with your doctor before trying Voltaren gel.

“Persons with a history of osteoarthritis should always discuss use of planned over-the-counter therapies with their doctor before initiating use.

“Persons who have knee or hand pain that is unrelated to arthritis should have the pain assessed first before self-treating to ensure that something more significant is not occurring and that the pain is something that can appropriately be treated with an over-the-counter therapy without causing further injury,” says Cathi Dennehy, PharmD, health sciences clinical professor of pharmacy, UCSF School of Pharmacy.

For some people, NSAIDs like Voltaren gel should be avoided altogether.

“NSAIDs topical or oral should be avoided; however, in patients with a history of significant stomach upset (ulcers, stomach bleeding), history of coronary artery bypass surgery, recent heart attack or stroke, uncontrolled high blood pressure, reduced kidney or liver function, or taking blood thinning medication,” says Dennehy.

If you plan to try Voltaren gel for pain relief, talk with your doctor first about the best options.

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 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:

ProductPriceMethod of application
Blue Stop gelabout $17–$25gel
Tiger Balmabout $3–$25variety (from gels and ointments to patches and sprays)
lidocaine patchesabout $10patch
Icy Hotabout $6–$24variety (from balms and foam to patches and sprays)

What is Voltaren gel used to treat?

You may use Voltaren gel to temporarily relieve arthritis joint pain. Research from 2020 on topical diclofenac shows its efficacy for people with osteoarthritis of the joints.

Where shouldn’t you use Voltaren gel?

Don’t use Voltaren gel on your back, hips, or shoulders. According to the National Library of Medicine, Voltaren gel hasn’t been studied for use on the hips, shoulders, or spine.

Additionally, don’t apply Voltaren gel to any open wounds or your eyes.

Why can’t I use Voltaren gel on my back?

Since Voltaren gel hasn’t been assessed for use on the back, it isn’t approved for the relief of any back pain, including muscle pain.

How long does it take for Voltaren gel to work?

It can take up to 7 days to work. Voltaren gel isn’t recommended for immediate relief of arthritis joint pain. Research from 2020 shows that most people report relief from pain around 7 days or sooner.

Is Voltaren gel dangerous?

It is possible. According to the National Library of Medicine, NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and bleeding and ulceration of the stomach. Further, diclofenac (the active ingredient in Voltaren gel) may cause potentially fatal skin adverse reactions like toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN).

Voltaren gel for arthritis pain contains 1% of the active ingredient diclofenac sodium and is available over the counter in most pharmacies. It can help soothe pain and tenderness when applied to the skin over small joints.

Voltaren may not work for everyone. Talk with a doctor before using Voltaren for your arthritis pain. If Voltaren gel doesn’t work for you, or if you experience side effects, stop using it and speak with a doctor. You may need other prescription pain medications to manage your arthritis joint pain.