A cut or crush injury to a peripheral nerve results in the degeneration of that portion of the axon isolated from the cell body. The rapid degeneration of this distal segment was for many years believed to be a process intrinsic to the nerve. It was believed that Schwann cells both phagocytosed degenerating axons and myelin sheaths and also provided growth factors to promote regeneration of the damaged axons. In recent years, it has become apparent that the degenerating distal segment is invaded by monocytes from the blood. We will review the evidence that these recruited macrophages play a role in both degeneration and regeneration of peripheral nerve axons after injury and consider whether the slow degeneration and poor monocyte recruitment in the central nervous system may contribute to the poor regeneration there.