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What Are the Advantages of Voltaren Gel?

People concerned about potential problems with NSAIDs such as celecoxib, ibuprofen, meloxicam or naproxen may want to consider topical medication for their sore joints. Find out about the advantages o

Inflammation is behind a lot of chronic disease, including arthritis. That is why nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen are so popular among people with joint pain. However, even though these drugs relieve pain and calm inflammation, they may cause serious side effects such as kidney damage, cardiovascular complications and digestive distress. Sometimes doctors prescribe a topical NSAID such as Pennsaid or Voltaren gel in an effort to get more benefit and less risk. The medicine is also available without a prescription. Are there advantages of Voltaren gel?

Shopping Internationally for Voltaren Gel:

Q. I first bought Voltaren gel from a pharmacy at the airport in Rome over 10 years ago. It helped my joints so much that I started buying it every time we traveled abroad.

The label on the box I bought in New Zealand says VOLTAREN Osteo Gel 12 Hourly 23.2 mg/g diclofenac diethylammonium. Apply once every 12 hours.

The Voltaren now available OTC in the US is to be applied every 6 hours. Is what I bought overseas stronger? What is the difference?

A. The FDA first approved a prescription form of Voltaren Gel (diclofenac sodium) in 2007. It was a 1% topical NSAID formulation. The same strength was approved for OTC use in 2020.

This product contains 10 mg diclofenac per gram of gel. Some people get good relief from topical diclofenac without side effects, while others get less benefit. Side effects may include digestive upset, skin reactions and cardiovascular complications. Because of the differences in formulation, it’s hard to say whether gel from New Zealand is stronger than the US version.

Enjoying the Advantages of Voltaren Gel:

Q. Both my husband and I have been using a small amount of Voltaren gel for years. This has enabled me to avoid knee replacements and my husband, back surgery.

When I first asked my orthopedic doctor about using the gel, he checked its effect on the kidneys and decided that it was ok to use.

In fact, at first, Voltaren gel wasn’t available in the US. We purchased it in Mexico, Europe or Asia. Now we purchase it OTC.

Every year we have our “wellness” exams, which include blood tests. Our kidney functions are still fine.

Adverse Effects from Topical NSAIDs:

A. Topical NSAIDs such as diclofenac (Voltaren gel, Pennsaid, Flector) can provide helpful relief for sore joints. Often, topical medication does not trigger the same complications as oral NSAIDS such as diclofenac, ibuprofen, meloxicam or naproxen.

That said, some people are very sensitive to adverse effects of these medicines. Readers have reported heartburn and gastritis as well as elevated blood pressure after applying Voltaren gel.

Learn More:

You’ll find much more information about topical NSAIDs as well as the pros and cons of oral NSAIDs, including celecoxib, indomethacin and ketoprofen, in our 104-page book, The Graedons’ Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis. In it, we also discuss the drawbacks and advantages of Voltaren gel.

Topical NSAIDs such as Voltaren gel are widely available over the counter in many countries, including the U.S.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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