Physical forces direct the orientation of the cell division axis for cells cultured on rigid, two-dimensional (2D) substrates. The extent to which physical forces regulate cell division in three-dimensional (3D) environments is not known. Here, we combine live-cell imaging with digital volume correlation to map 3D matrix displacements and identify sites at which cells apply contractile force to the matrix as they divide. Dividing cells embedded in fibrous matrices remained anchored to the matrix by long, thin protrusions. During cell rounding, the cells released adhesive contacts near the cell body while applying tensile forces at the tips of the protrusions to direct the orientation of the cell division axis. After cytokinesis, the daughter cells respread into matrix voids and invaded the matrix while maintaining traction forces at the tips of persistent and newly formed protrusions. Mechanical interactions between cells and the extracellular matrix constitute an important mechanism for regulation of cell division in 3D environments.