Occupy Wall Street Protesters: Potential Arrest Injuries


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Occupy Wall Street Protesters: Photo by David Shankbone

The protesters involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, or other “Occupy” events, may experience pepper spray injuries and handcuff injuries in the course of the protest, or being arrested. Pepper spray and handcuff injuries are generally minor, but some protesters may need medical attention.

Pepper Spray Injuries

Pepper spray, also known as OC spray, is used by law enforcement as a deterrent. The active ingredient in pepper spray is an oil, derived from the capsicum plant, called oleoresin capsicum. There are many brands and concentrations of pepper spray available – higher concentrations of capsicum create more intense reactions. According to the Louisville Metro Police Department, for example, the pepper spray used by Louisville police is a .2 percent concentrate of First Defense MK-3, manufactured by Defense Technology.

There are a wide range of brands out there, so the degree and severity of injuries will vary depending on the differences in the amount of capsicum oil in the spray, in the intensity and duration of contact, and in the individual’s sensitivity to the spray. Pepper spray can come in contact with the skin and eyes, or it can be inhaled, but any contact can cause symptoms.

  • Skin Contact: Pepper spray can cause the skin to tingle, burn, swell, and sometimes blister.
  • Inhaled Spray: Respiratory injuries from pepper spray include burning of the throat, wheezing, and shortness of breath, or temporary inability to speak. In severe cases, respiratory arrest can occur. When pepper spray is inhaled through the nose it can cause burning, sneezing, increase in blood pressure and headaches.
  • Eye Contact: Injuries that occur to the eye include redness, swelling and involuntary closing of the eyelids.

Pepper Spray First Aid

Military training includes exposure to pepper spray. Image by: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua J. Wahl

First-aid treatment for pepper spray includes flushing the contaminated skin with cool water, and cleaning the affected area with a non-oil-based soap or cream.  Eyes should be flushed with water until the burning sensation is gone. If burning continues for more than 15 minutes, medical attention is needed. Any clothing that is contaminated should be carefully removed and placed in a sealed plastic bag. Anyone assisting the person with decontamination should be wearing gloves to protect themselves from becoming contaminated as well.

Handcuff Injuries

Resisting arrest can cause injuries to the hands from the handcuffs. Photo by Adrian Kinloch

Some of the protesters of the Occupy Wall Street protest, and other protests around the nation, have been arrested during the course of the event. When handcuffs are applied to a struggling person, the cuffs can become too tight around the wrist, which causes injuries. According to F.S. Haddad, in the British Medical Journal article, “Complaints of pain after use of handcuffs should not be dismissed,” superficial radial handcuff neuropathy is the most common type of handcuff related injury. Superficial radial handcuff neuropathy causes symptoms such as a tingling sensation in the hands, numbness, and loss of motor function. Medical attention is needed to ensure proper medical care. Other handcuff injuries can include bruising and minor lacerations which are easily treated with ice and bandages.


Mitchell, Dwight, Louisville Metro Police Department. Phone and email interview. October 12, 2011.

Defense Technology: MK-3 .2%  Accessed on October 13, 2011.

Oh, JJ. “Mass Causality Incident Involving Pepper Spray Exposure: Impact on the Emergency Department and Management of Causalities” Hong Kong Journal of Emergency Medicine 17.4 (2010): 352-59. Accessed on October 11, 2011

Haddad, FS. “Complaints of Pain after Use of Handcuffs Should Not Be Dismissed.” British Medical Journal 318.7175 (1999): 55. Accessed on October 11,2011.

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