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Diclofenac vs. Ibuprofen: Which is Better For Joint Pain?

Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed by Mohommed Essop-AdamReviewed on 30.10.2023 | 8 minutes read

With so many different over-the-counter and prescription medications out there, choosing the right one for you can seem overwhelming. When treating mild to moderate pain, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be very effective.

Two of the most popular choices for NSAIDs are Diclofenac and Ibuprofen. They are commonly used to treat arthritis, joint pain, aching muscles and other instances of chronic pain.

In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about Diclofenac and Ibuprofen, helping you understand the key differences between the two, and which might be most suitable for your symptoms.

Doctor’s advice

What are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs? How do they work?

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used for treating pain and can also help to reduce inflammation. They work by reducing prostaglandins, which are a group of lipids that your body creates at the site of an injury that can cause pain and inflammation in the affected area.

Both drugs are non-selective NSAIDs, meaning they are able to block the COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes. These enzymes are responsible for prostaglandin production. Due to the COX-1 enzyme also having protective effects on the lining of the stomach, blocking this enzyme can cause stomach aches and gastrointestinal side effects.

You might be thinking, 'why we don't block prostaglandins all the time?' They actually have a useful purpose, as they help to dilate blood vessels, promoting healthy blood flow to the body's vital organs. Though, where prostaglandin is causing pain, NSAIDs are used to reduce it.

What is Diclofenac?

Diclofenac is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that is used to relieve pain and inflammation. Diclofenac is available in various forms such as tablets, capsules, suppositories, and topical rub-on gel (Voltarol). The tablets and capsules are typically taken orally, while the suppositories are inserted into the rectum. The rub-on gel is applied topically to the skin.

Diclofenac is often prescribed by doctors for conditions such as arthritis, back pain, and menstrual cramps. However, the rub-on gel form of Diclofenac (Voltarol) is available over-the-counter without a prescription in many countries.

While diclofenac is generally safe and effective when used as directed, it can cause side effects, especially when taken for an extended period of time or in high doses. These side effects can include stomach upset, nausea, diarrhoea, dizziness, and increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

It is important to follow the dosage and administration instructions carefully when using diclofenac, and to talk to a healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about its use.

What is Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) from the same family as aspirin and naproxen. They can be purchased over-the-counter and are also available on prescription. Ibuprofen is ideal for treating minor aches and pains along with:

Ibuprofen is generally considered safe when taken at recommended doses, but like all medications, it can cause side effects in some people. Common side effects include stomach upset, heartburn, and nausea.

It is important to follow the recommended dosages and directions when using ibuprofen, and to speak with a healthcare provider if you have any concerns or questions about its use.

Is Voltarol Stronger Than Ibuprofen Gel?

In terms of potency, Diclofenac gel is considered to be stronger than Ibuprofen gel. This is because diclofenac is a more potent NSAID compared to ibuprofen, and the gel formulation allows for targeted delivery of the drug directly to the affected area.

However, the strength of the gel depends on the concentration of the active ingredient in the formulation. Different formulations of Diclofenac and Ibuprofen gel may have different concentrations of the active ingredient, and this can affect the strength and effectiveness of the product.

Volatrol gel is available in 2 strengths: 1.16% and 2.32%.

The higher strength gel,Voltarol 12 Hour Joint Pain Relief, can be applied every 12 hours, whereas the lower strength, Voltarol Back and Muscle Pain Relief, can be used 3 - 4 times a day.

Over-the-counter Ibuprofen has a strength of 200mg or 400mg. Prescribed forms are stronger and can come in 400mg, 600mg, and 800mg doses. These are usually prescribed to treat cases of moderate pain as a result of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, along with other conditions.

Main Differences Between Diclofenac and Ibuprofen

Diclofenac and Ibuprofen are not the same, despite both being nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. They have different ingredients, but should not be used together as they are from the same family of medication and taking together is classed as double-dosing.

How to Buy

Voltarol gel is available over-the-counter. We have both Voltarol 12 Hour Joint Pain Relief and Voltarol Back and Muscle Pain Relief available to order online.

Ibuprofen 200mg doses can be purchased over-the-counter, while stronger doses will require a prescription. We have

Age Range

Diclofenac gel is suitable for adults and children aged 14 and over. Ibuprofen can be used by children over 3 months, in the form Nurofen for Children 3 Months to 9 Years Orange flavour oral suspension.


Diclofenac is available in several different formulations, including tablets, capsules, suppositories, and topical gel. Ibuprofen is available in similar formulations. Its most popular formulation is capsules, but it also comes in a liquid form that is often used for children.

Recommended Dosage

Diclofenac: The dose of diclofenac tablets for arthritis pain is usually 25 mg to 50 mg. It can be taken 2-3 times a day with a maximum dose of 150 mg a day. This is prescription only. Voltarol 12 Hour Joint Pain Relief, can be applied every 12 hours while Voltarol Back and Muscle Pain Relief, can be used 3 - 4 times a day.

Ibuprofen: Adults can usually take 1 or 2 tablets (200mg) every 4 to 6 hours but should not exceed 1,200mg (6 x 200mg) tablets in the space of 24 hours.

Children under 16 will likely require a lower dose but check the packaging or leaflet for recommended dosage or ask a pharmacist or doctor for advice.

Prescription ibuprofen dose is 800mg up to 4 times a day with a maximum daily dose of 3,200mg.

Diclofenac vs Ibuprofen: Which is better?

Diclofenac is a stronger NSAID than ibuprofen. Taking Diclofenac 2-3 times daily can help treat arthritis pain, however has a greater side-effect profile to the heart and stomach, which is which it is not so often recommended. Treating joint pain with Ibuprofen will usually require a higher dose with a prescription likely required.

Is it Safe to Drink Alcohol While Taking Diclofenac or Ibuprofen?

You should not drink alcohol if you're taking Diclofenac or Ibuprofen. Alcohol can increase your risk of stomach bleeding and can also cause other side effects like headache and dizziness. If you have symptoms of bleeding in your stomach, call your doctor immediately. If you have black, bloody, or tarry stools, or are coughing up blood or vomit that looks like coffee grounds, you should also seek medical help.

Diclofenac (Voltarol) vs Ibuprofen For Back Pain

Back pain will usually improve within a few days or weeks without treatment. You can consider using medication like ibuprofen to help ease pain and inflammation. Voltarol Back and Muscle Pain Relief is designed to provide direct relief to the affected area.

If your back pain is not getting any better, speak to your doctor who will be able to diagnose the problem.

In Summary, which is better?

Both Diclofenac and Ibuprofen are effective NSAIDs for treating pain and reducing inflammation. Diclofenac is stronger than ibuprofen so a smaller dosage is required. Voltarol gel can be more effective at easing arthritic pain.

If you are unsure about which treatment is best for you, we're here to help. Please get in touch with our caring team of medical experts to find out more.

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Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed by Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed on 30.10.2023
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