Voltaren is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that treats pain and inflammation. It is more potent than other common NSAIDs and may cause side effects.

Doctors may prescribe Voltaren as a topical gel, oral tablet, intravenous (IV) solution, or, in some countries, as a suppository for the relief of osteoarthritis or other inflammatory conditions.

People most often use Voltaren in topical gel form, and apply it directly to joints such as those in the hands and knees.

As a topical gel, Voltaren is also used to treat actinic keratosis (AK).

This article explores what Voltaren is, how it works, where to get it, and how to use it. It also looks at the differences between Voltaren and other painkillers, and possible side effects.

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Voltaren is a brand name for diclofenac. It belongs to a class of medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

People use Voltaren to relieve pain, swelling, tenderness, and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

A doctor may also prescribe it to treat ankylosing spondylitis, a type of arthritis that mainly affects the spine.

People most often use Voltaren in gel form on joints such as those in the knees and hands. Voltaren gel is in need of further study to evaluate its potential use on the joints of the hip, shoulder, or spine.

Voltaren works by blocking a particular enzyme, called cyclooxygenase (COX)-1 and-2, in the body. When this enzyme becomes blocked, the body makes a smaller amount of inflammatory chemicals, called prostaglandins. This helps to reduce pain, fever, and inflammation.

Like other NSAIDs, doctors often prescribe Voltaren as first-line therapy for chronic or acute pain and inflammation from various causes. People often take Voltaren for inflammatory conditions like arthritis and injury-related inflammation after surgery or physical trauma.

Doctors often prescribe it in combination with medication that protects the gastrointestinal tract for patients with a high risk of developing ulcers caused by NSAIDs.

A doctor may prescribe Voltaren. A person also can get it themselves at a pharmacy, because the FDA has approved Voltaren for over the counter sale.

Voltaren is available as a gel, as standard and extended-release oral tablets, and also, in some countries outside the US, as a suppository. It is also available as an IV solution. People most commonly use it in topical gel form.

Individuals should take Voltaren tablets orally, following their prescription or package instructions. A person should insert Voltaren suppositories rectally.

A person should use the lowest effective dosage of Voltaren for the shortest possible duration.

The packaging for Voltaren gel contains a clear plastic dosage card. People should measure the proper amount of gel using the dosing card supplied.

A person should apply the gel within the rectangular area of the card up to the 2 gram (g) or 4 g line. The 2 g line is 2.25 inches long, and the 4 g line is 4.5 inches long.

Generally, someone should apply 2 g for each wrist, hand, or elbow. They should apply around 4 g for each knee, ankle, or foot.

A person can apply the gel using the card. They should then gently rub the gel into the skin using their fingers.

Rinse the dosage card after each use. If an individual applied gel to their hands, they should wait at least 1 hour before washing them.

Upper extremities

If someone is applying Voltaren gel to the upper extremities, including the hands, wrists, or elbows, they should apply 2 g of gel to the affected area four times daily, or as often as their prescription states.

A person should not apply more than 8 g to any single joint of the upper extremities daily.

Lower extremities

A person should apply 4 g of gel to the lower extremities, including the foot, ankle, or knee, four times daily. They should not apply more than 16 g to any single joint in one day.

A person should not apply a total dose exceeding 32 g per day over all affected joints.

If a person applies Voltaren gel, they should avoid:

  • bathing or showering for at least an hour after application
  • application to open wounds
  • contact with eyes and mucous membranes
  • application of external heat and moisturizing dressings to treated joints
  • exposure to sunlight
  • mixing Voltaren gel with other topical products on the skin, such as cosmetics, lotion, sunscreen, and insect repellents
  • the use of other NSAIDs, including oral types
  • wearing clothing or gloves for at least 10 minutes after application

Voltaren differs from other NSAIDs in the way that people commonly use it.

Most often, people use Voltaren in gel form, while people usually take other NSAIDs such as ibuprofen orally.

However, diclofenac treatments aside from Voltaren are also available as patches, powders, and capsules.

Studies have found diclofenac to be more effective than other NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, celecoxib, and naproxen in reducing pain. Researchers also concluded it was more effective than paracetamol (Tylenol), a non-opioid painkiller.

Doctors consider diclofenac more potent than other NSAID and non-opioid painkillers such as ibuprofen and Tylenol. Only adults receive prescriptions for diclofenac. Those with prescriptions will need to use or take it two or three times per day.

With other NSAID painkillers, an individual will need to take them in higher doses to treat pain from arthritis.

Diclofenac has similar side effects to other NSAIDs.

Opioid painkillers, such as tramadol, morphine, and codeine, are more potent than Voltaren. A person requires a prescription for these, and they treat moderate to severe pain.

Voltaren in any form may cause side effects. Common side effects include:

Voltaren may sometimes cause more serious side effects. A person should contact a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • itching
  • fever
  • unexplained weight gain
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • swelling in the lower legs, feet, ankles, or abdomen
  • pain in the upper right of the stomach
  • yellowing of the eyes or skin
  • blisters
  • rash
  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • hives
  • swelling of the arms, hands, lips, throat, or eyes
  • difficulty urinating
  • back pain
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

Voltaren may have other side effects. A person should contact their doctor if side effects are persistent or severe.

Voltaren is an NSAID that people take for the treatment of pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, injury, or surgery.

Voltaren works by blocking an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX)-1 and-2, which causes the body to make less prostaglandins, the chemicals that cause inflammation.

A person can get Voltaren over the counter at a pharmacy, or through a doctor’s prescription.

The treatment is available as an oral tablet, an IV solution, and most commonly as a gel. It is also available as a suppository in some countries, such as Canada. A person can apply the gel in specific amounts directly to the affected joints.

Voltaren is more potent than NSAIDs like ibuprofen and non-opioid painkillers like Tylenol. It is less potent than opioid medications like codeine and morphine.

Voltaren has potential side effects such as headaches, diarrhea, and dizziness.

Some people may experience more serious side effects such as swelling in the face, rash, and fever.

If a person experiences serious side effects, they should contact their doctor.