Purpose Many industrialised nations have systems of injury compensation and rehabilitation that are designed to support injury recovery and return to work. Despite their intention, there is now substantial evidence that injured people, employers and healthcare providers can experience those systems as difficult to navigate, and that this can affect injury recovery. This study sought to characterise the relationships and interactions occurring between actors in three Australian injury compensation systems, to identify the range of factors that impact on injury recovery, and the interactions and inter-relationships between these factors. Methods This study uses data collected directly from injured workers and their family members via qualitative interviews, analysed for major themes and interactions between themes, and then mapped to a system level model. Results Multiple factors across multiple system levels were reported by participants as influencing injury recovery. Factors at the level of the injured person’s immediate environment, the organisations and personnel involved in rehabilitation and compensation processes were more commonly cited than governmental or societal factors as influencing physical function, psychological function and work participation. Conclusions The study demonstrates that injury recovery is a complex process influenced by the decisions and actions of organisations and individuals operating across multiple levels of the compensation system. Changes occurring ‘upstream’, for instance at the level of governmental or organisational policy, can impact injury recovery through both direct and diffuse pathways.