Topical and transdermal formulations are a common means of pharmaceutical drug delivery. If a drug is able to penetrate transcutaneously, the skin is an ideal site for the delivery of medications for both local (topical) and systemic (transdermal) effects. The administration of analgesics through the skin poses several potential advantages to those administered orally including compliance, the ability to deliver a drug to a peripheral target site and more stable and sustained plasma levels. One method of drug delivery is with the use of patch formulations – also known as patch systems. Typically, transdermal patches deliver medications intended to reach the systemic circulation, whereas topical patches are designed to keep medication localized for targeted delivery in proximity to the application site. There are a variety of technologies and materials utilized in patches, as well as penetration and formulation enhancers that ultimately affect the performance, efficacy and safety of the patch system. The degree of adherence to the skin is also of critical importance in drug delivery. Patches that lift up or fall off before the prescribed time period may represent a therapeutic failure and must be replaced, increasing patch utilization and cost to the healthcare system or to the patient. The added risk from accidental exposure makes poor patch adhesion a safety issue as well. A variety of analgesics are currently available as patch formulations including local anesthetics, capsaicin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids. This review will highlight each of those patch delivery systems and introduce newer patch technologies that lend towards improved adhesion and compliance. Understanding the designs, limitations and benefits of patch systems will allow clinicians to select between these therapies when appropriate for their patients.