Spinal cord injury (SCI) initiates detrimental cellular and molecular events that lead to acute and delayed neuroinflammation. Understanding the role of the inflammatory response in SCI requires insight into the temporal and cellular synthesis of inflammatory mediators. We subjected C57BL/6J mice to SCI and investigated inflammatory reactions. We examined activation, recruitment, and polarization of microglia and infiltrating immune cells, focusing specifically on tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and its receptors TNFR1 and TNFR2. In the acute phase, TNF expression increased in glial cells and neuron‐like cells, followed by infiltrating immune cells. TNFR1 and TNFR2 levels increased in the delayed phase and were found preferentially on neurons and glial cells, respectively. The acute phase was dominated by the infiltration of granulocytes and macrophages. Microglial/macrophage expression of Arg1 increased from 1–7 days after SCI, followed by an increase in Itgam, Cx3cr1, and P2ry12, which remained elevated throughout the study. By 21 and 28 days after SCI, the lesion core was populated by galectin‐3 +, CD68 +, and CD11b + microglia/macrophages, surrounded by a glial scar consisting of GFAP + astrocytes. Findings were verified in postmortem tissue from individuals with SCI. Our findings support the consensus that future neuroprotective immunotherapies should aim to selectively neutralize detrimental immune signaling while sustaining pro‐regenerative processes.