Diclofenac sodium is an anti-inflammatory pain reliever. It comes in many different forms, including tablets, capsules, suppositories and rub-on gel (Voltarol), however the only formulation available over-the-counter is the rub-on gel. This is the strongest anti-inflammatory rub-on formulation available over the counter. It can start to work within 20 - 30 minutes after applying, but full anti-inflammatory effects can take up to a couple of days once applied consistently. The gel is available in 2 strengths: 1.16% and 2.32%. The higher strength gel can be applied every 12 hours, whereas the lower strength formulation is 3 - 4 times a day.
Diclofenac gel is most suitable for people who have tried a rub-on gel-like ibuprofen and are still in some pain. This is specifically designed for painful musculoskeletal conditions, such as strains, sprains and back pain. Some people prefer a rub-on gel to a tablet. As it comes in two strengths, it is important to decide whether it would be more useful or practical for you to apply the rub less often, only twice a day with the 2.32% strength. Or if you are able, and would like to apply it more often, 3 - 4 times a day with the lower strength product.
Diclofenac gel is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) from the same family as aspirin and naproxen. Because of this, make sure you aren’t taking diclofenac alongside other anti-inflammatories, as this can upset your stomach. Diclofenac’s anti-inflammatory effect works by blocking the body’s production of a substance called "prostaglandins", which are released in response to illness or injury. Prostaglandins can cause pain and inflammation to notify the person they are unwell. By stopping prostaglandin production, they can stop the pain, inflammation and even fever. Diclofenac also has a minor antiplatelet effect, which means it stops the blood from clotting. Seek the advice of a pharmacist or doctor if you are on any medications that may affect bleeding.
Diclofenac is only for people aged over 14 years of age, and should not be taken for more than 7 days in a row. Like all medications, don’t take them if you have previously had an allergic reaction to the medication, if you have severe kidney or liver problems, or if you have other medications or medical conditions where you would normally discuss with your doctor or pharmacist before starting something new. If you are asthmatic and haven’t had anti-inflammatories before, they can sometimes cause an acute asthma attack, so should be avoided. Do not take diclofenac if you are trying to get pregnant or are already pregnant, as there is not enough information about safety during pregnancy. If you have a known stomach ulcer or inflammatory bowel disease, you should avoid taking diclofenac unless recommended by your doctor.
As with any medications, some people are bound to get some unwanted side effects. Some of the common ones include headaches, feeling dizzy, nausea and vomiting. Indigestion and heartburn are other common side effects, as diclofenac can irritate the lining of the stomach, especially when taken for more than a few days.