There is an urgent need to quantify anthropogenic influence on forest carbon stocks. Using satellite-based radar imagery for such purposes has been challenged by the apparent loss of signal sensitivity to changes in forest aboveground volume (AGV) above a certain ‘saturation’ point. The causes of saturation are debated and often inadequately addressed, posing a major limitation to mapping AGV with the latest radar satellites. Using ground- and lidar-measurements across La Rioja province (Spain) and Denmark, we investigate how various properties of forest structure (average stem height, size and number density; proportion of canopy and understory cover) simultaneously influence radar backscatter. It is found that increases in backscatter due to changes in some properties (e.g. increasing stem sizes) are often compensated by equal magnitude decreases caused by other properties (e.g. decreasing stem numbers and increasing heights), contributing to the apparent saturation of the AGV-backscatter trend. Thus, knowledge of the impact of management practices and disturbances on forest structure may allow the use of radar imagery for forest biomass estimates beyond commonly reported saturation points.