Penetrex vs. Voltaren vs. Biofreeze vs. Sombra

Updated on November 14, 2016
Coffee-Break profile image

I love coffee, and I enjoy writing about it. As a former barista, I tested various coffee preparation methods and equipment.

Topical Anti-Inflammatory Gels and Creams

Topical anti-inflammatory gels and creams are one of the safest ways to reduce inflammation and pain in joints. But there are so many creams and gels to choose from, we may feel overwhelmed by all the options. This article will review the most popular creams for muscle and joint pain. Whether you are looking to heal your injury or provide some relief for your sore joints, this article will help you choose the best anti-inflammatory cream.

Penetrex Cream

My personal favorite for joint problems. Give it a try to you won't regret it.

It works for muscles as well, but I personally found the Biofreeze more effective for muscle problems.

Penetrex doesn't have a strong odor, you can barely smell it. And if you are looking for a strong burning sensation to take off the edge of the pain by freezing, this is not the product for you. You might want to look at Sombra and Biofreeze for such a product. However it is very effective. It works from the first day of use, however I found it more efficient after a few days. I started by applying it two or three times per day, and after 10 days or so I only applied it once per day, as a maintenance. It kept my knee in control.

My wife who is reluctant to anything that is not USDA approved gave in and accepted to let me apply it on her wrist. Her wrist was in pain for three weeks when she finally accepted to try it. It worked for her too, after a few days of using the cream the pain disappeared.

Penetrex Pain Relief Therapy [2 Oz] – Trusted by 2 Million+ Sufferers Since 2009. (for Your Back, Neck, Knee, Shoulder, Foot, etc) Safe to use with Arthritis Gloves, Back Massagers, Knee Braces, etc.
Penetrex Pain Relief Therapy [2 Oz] – Trusted by 2 Million+ Sufferers Since 2009. (for Your Back, Neck, Knee, Shoulder, Foot, etc) Safe to use with Arthritis Gloves, Back Massagers, Knee Braces, etc.
Ingredients: Purified Water, Arnica Montana Extract, Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil, Glycerin, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Butylene Glycol, Shea Butter, Boswellia Serrata, Cetyl Esters, Steareth-20, Choline Bitartrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM/DMSO2), Glucosamine Sulfate, Ethoxydiglycol, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizinate, Dimethicone, Cetyl Myristoleate, Peppermint Oil, Camphor, Tea Tree Oil, Tocopheryl Acetate, Ammonium Acryloyl-Dimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer, Diazolidinyl Urea, Methylparaben, Propylparaben

Penetrex Video Review

Why Creams and Gels Are the Best Options for Joint and Muscle Inflammation

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs vs Creams

As a knee sufferer, I have tried many products on the market and I found that the gels and the creams are the most effective while safe for use. I only used pills when I was in big pain, because non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, although effective in controlling the pain, when abused, can have serious side effects, including stomach and liver problems.

The steroidal anti-inflammatory are also dangerous, when abused. This leaves us with a few options: anti-inflammatory diet, anti-inflammatory supplements and topical anti-inflammatory. A controlled diet, and supplements are a good way to help for the joint inflammation, however it is not going to be sufficient. The creams, gels and ointments are the best. There is also cryotherapy, which is also called hydrotherapy, and is basically the use of ice on the problem site.

I personally used anti-inflammatory drugs very rarely, and only when other methods didn't work. The NSAID were the last resort to help other methods of reducing the inflammation.

Biofreeze Gel

Biofreeze was and it still is the favorite pain relief of massage therapists, chiropractors and physiotherapists. It relieves pain very fast and it helps muscle healing by increasing the blood flow locally. Its natural ingredients formula is safe, yet extremely effective for muscle pain. It works on joints too providing a short term pain relief, however, for joints I prefer Penetrex. If your joint is healthy, but is just overused Biofreeze is probably the best option, but if you have a chronic problem, Penetrex might work better for you.

The Biofreeze has a strong, but pleasant menthol and camphor smell, and it has a burning/cooling sensation, after you apply it. It stimulates the muscles and joints similarly to an ice pack.

Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel, 32 oz. Pump, Green (Packaging May Vary)
Biofreeze Pain Relief Gel, 32 oz. Pump, Green (Packaging May Vary)
Ingredients: Menthol 3.5%, Camphor, carbomer, Herbal Extract (ILEX Paraguariensis), Methylparaben, Propylene Glycol, Isopropyl Alcohol, Silicon Dioxide, Triethanolamine, FD&C blue #1, FD&C yellow #5, Glycerine, Water

Types of Topical NSAID

Cold Therapy vs Topical Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

There are two types of creams discussed in this article, and I am prepared to be criticized for comparing apples to oranges, but it kind of makes sense because so many people do this comparison. One type of creams and gels are cooling agents, that work in a similar way to applying ice on the joint, and the other type contains substances that will stimulate the tissue healing. The first type will have an immediate effect, soothing pain and reducing inflammation, the second type will be effective on the long run, with minimal effects on a short term.

Typical usages for Biofreeze, IcyHot, or Sombra are for immediate pain relief, acute muscle or joint injuries, and generally it will allow you to move freely without pain even with an acute injury. Your body will start the healing process normally.

The typical usage for Penetrex, Voltaren, CTCream and others, is for treating chronic muscle and joint problems. The cream will be absorbed through the skin and the active substances will stimulate the body to regenerate and heal the joint.

Sombra Therapeutic Gel - Cold or Warm Therapy

Sombra gel is one of the leading topical analgesics in the U.S. The Cold or Warm Therapy Sombra Gels are some of the best products on the market, and one of the best seller in their category. The list of ingredients totally different from Penetrex or Biofreze, containing grapefruit seed extract, and capsaicin, two ingredients proven to work great for muscles and joints.

Sombra Warm Therapy Natural Pain Relieving Gel, 8-Ounce
Sombra Warm Therapy Natural Pain Relieving Gel, 8-Ounce
Ingredients: Menthol 3.0%, Camphor 3.0%, Aloe Vera Extract, Capsaicin, Decyl Plyglucose, Deionized Water, Grapefruit Seed Extract, Orange Peel Extract, Green Tea Extract, Queen of the Prairie Extract, Rose Water, Vegetable Glycerin, Witch Hazel, Yucca Extract, Sodium Hydroxymethyl Glycinate, Silica, Carbomer.

Penetrex vs. Voltaren Comparison

Penetrex is a combination of many natural substances in a base that will help the skin absorption. Although most the components of Penetrex were never subject to rigorous scientific research to prove their effectiveness, the combination is the best anti-inflammatory cream I have used. It has great results, and this is probably the reason it is number one seller in its category. The active ingredients are: Vitamin B6, Arnica, Choline, MSM, Cetyl Myristoleate, Shea Butter & Boswellia Serrata.

Voltaren is a simpler cream with only one active ingredient - diclofenac diethylamine. Diclofenac has been in the attention of the medical research world for a while, and it is scientifically proven to reduce inflammation and pain on muscles and joints. The relief is faster than with Penetrex, however, I found Penetrex more efficient in the long run.

And you cannot ignore the danger associated with using diclofenac, which are higher risks of heart attack and stroke.

Blue-Emu - Emu Oil Cream

Blue Emu is another great cream for joints. Actually, many people who have used it prefer it over any other topical pain relief. This is a fast-acting pain relief, with immediate and long-lasting action. The emu oil is combined with glucosamine and MSM, providing great relief.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

  • Does Penetrex help with pain below the knee?

    Penetrex helps by reducing the inflammation. It is not a miracle cure that you put on and all pain is gone. Find out what's causing the pain, if you want long term results. The pain could be caused by tendonitis, (inflammation), which Penetrex could alleviate, but you need to use it for at least a week or so to see results.

    If you are a runner, you probably need to look at other things to change, the best thing to do is to contact a great specialist.

    This answer doesn't constitute medical advice.

  • I have surgery next week and I'm not allowed to use NSAIDs. Can I use Voltaren or Sombra?

    This is not medical advice, and it is only for informational purposes.

    Surgeons recommend stopping NSAIDs before surgery to decrease the risk of excessive bleeding.

    Voltaren contains diclofenac sodium which is an NSAID. Sombra contains a lot of natural compounds that are anti-inflammatory, and these are not considered NSAIDS, but they have similar effects. For instance, Capsicum Annuum might increase the risk of excessive bleeding.

    I would use any of the two if I were you, but the best person to ask this question is the doctor who recommended to not take any NSAIDS.

What Works Best for You?

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    • profile image

      Dr Evil 

      19 months ago

      Arnica is insanely toxic and should be used with caution. It is called wolfsbane for a reason...

      Read the wikipedia articles before applying natural poisons to yourself.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Have you done any comparison between any of these products and the Arnica cream? A lot of people I know insist on arnica. I've had a lot of ortho surgeries and have arthritis in several joints. I've had success with biofreeze but wonder if arnica is a better pain reliever.

    • profile image

      Jonas Berwick 

      2 years ago

      My vote is for Penetrex. It actually relieves the pain almost immediately and lasts for a good while. I use Penetrex for sciatica and my pain always returns but Penetrex is my go to immediate relief resource. I've had back problems for years and I became horribly addicted to painkillers and cannot cannot take another painkiller for the rest of my life so Penetrex and ibuprofen actually work, to my complete and utter surprise anf disbelief. Thank god!!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Biofreeze is as stated on the article, it provide immediate relief on the pain. Been using it since i was diagnosed with RA, tried NSAIDs before but I can't take prescription meds for a long. I did take Vision Group Corp Omega 3 as an alternative anti-inflammatory.

    • norma-holt profile image


      6 years ago

      Really great information and nicely presented. Personally I take 5 tabs of Rosehip Vital for my age associated aches and pains and it seems to keep them at bay. Well done.

    • Coffee-Break profile imageAUTHOR

      Dorian Bodnariuc 

      6 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario Canada

      @activegirl: Hi activegirl, in your case it might be worth taking a look at your gut microflora. Inexplicable and sudden inflammation is very often associated with fungal infection, (like Candida). Fungal infections are usually kept under control by a normal thriving gut microflora. This microflora can be weakened by antibiotics, or simply age. Check this website: for more info about probiotics and fermented foods.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      A lot of great information - exactly what I have been looking for. I have used Biofreeze, but the benefits (minimal) are short-lived. Volteran Gel is very expensive (I get a script from my doctor), and again the minimal beneifits are short-lived. I have severe OA in my knees and hips, and suffer from Fibromyalgia (so I have been told), as well as bursitis in both hips. I had a hip replacement 2 years ago that left me with nerve pain/damage/pins & needles feeling in my left lower leg and letf foot. I have to crawl up the steps, and wake up dozens of times during the night because of the soreness and pain. I am a 52-year-old female in excellent health otherwise (I taught aerobics and weightlifting for 20 years); my joint issues came out of nowhere almost 3 years ago. After my hip replacement (which left me partially paralyzed and with nerve damage and drop foot for nearly 4 months...I still have nerve damage but am able to walk about 85% normally), I seemed to have contracted the Fibro. The one thing I am is a fighter, and I have never given up hope. I am anxious to try the remainder of these products so that I can get off the prescription meds. Thanks, again!

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 

      6 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Very interesting lens. Bookmarking it so I'll have it handy. Appreciated the explanations you included. Thank you!

    • Coffee-Break profile imageAUTHOR

      Dorian Bodnariuc 

      6 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario Canada

      @Lady Lorelei: Voltaren is one of the best anti inflammatory creams @Ladymermaid.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      6 years ago from Canada

      The pharmasist recommended voltaren emugel for me and it was a miracle healer. It gave the little extra kick of anti-inflammatory that I needed to heal specific areas of inflammation. Great stuff.

    • flycatcherrr profile image


      6 years ago

      I've just started using Voltaren and found it very effective, but now I'm thinking I need to read up a bit more on potential side-effects of it. Haven't tried Biofreeze yet, so perhaps I will give it a go.

    • profile image

      sybil watson 

      7 years ago

      I'm sitting here with a brace on my foot for plantar fasciitis and I come across this great lens with information about topical gels and creams that will help the pain. It had never occurred to me that they would work on plantar fasciitis. Perfect timing and I'll definitely give them a try.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I really like the article as it gives those willing to give anything for relief to their pain a practical checklist of things they can try.

    • AussieAnnie LM profile image

      AussieAnnie LM 

      7 years ago

      over use of an anti inflam gel may lead to the decay of collagen tissue be ware of this!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Valuable information is here in this lens.

    • squidoopets profile image

      Darcie French 

      7 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      I use an acetaminophen based topical pain relief cream, haven't tried any of the options you offer yet so thanks for the review :D

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I used Voltaren Gel, but then got turned onto Tennis Elbow Grease. Check out the ingredients! Way more loaded up than all the others and works great.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I just began using the Penetrex, and after a few days, I actually can tell a difference. Since using it, my hands no longer tingle in the middle of the night from carpal tunnel syndrome.

    • dawnsantiquesan profile image


      7 years ago

      I never heard of some of these creams like the Penetrex. I think I will try it for my ankle. I still get swelling and some pain after breaking it in 2007. Thanks so much for this lens.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 

      7 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      some very good information

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Penetrex is number one for my neuropathy pain. It worked immediately. It is the best product I have found.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Penetrex is best... Topricin is second..

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I appreciate you taking time to share such valuable information.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Your gel is really useful

    • earlymorningglow profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens! I used Voltaren Gel before and can recommend it!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great info!

    • Skin-Health profile image


      7 years ago

      @Sabre1000: @sabreblade,I haven't personally used it, but I heard many people talking about it. I included it in the lens now. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Skin-Health profile image


      7 years ago

      @WriterJanis2: Thanks for reading my article WriterJanis.

    • sunlightseer profile image


      7 years ago

      I know this is a comparison of the three, but Nuwati Herbals work best for me. Good info on the three.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      7 years ago

      This is good info to know.

    • Sabre1000 profile image


      7 years ago

      No Blue Emu? That works better for me than any of these!


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