Macrophages from the peripheral circulation and those derived from resident microglia are among the main effector cells of the inflammatory response that follows spinal cord trauma. There has been considerable debate in the field as to whether the inflammatory response is good or bad for tissue protection and repair. Recent studies on macrophage polarization in non-neural tissues have shed much light on their changing functional states. In the context of this literature, we discuss the activation of macrophages and microglia following spinal cord injury, and their effects on repair. Harnessing their anti-inflammatory properties could pave the way for new therapeutic strategies for spinal cord trauma.