NuVasive (NUVA) has been at the forefront of medical advancements in surgical procedures. With its focus on surgery to treat spinal conditions, NuVasive's minimally disruptive surgical platform and accessories have played a key role in driving more effective treatment options for patients suffering from these health conditions.

Coming into Wednesday's first-quarter financial report, NuVasive investors wanted to see the company produce modest gains in key financial metrics. NuVasive's numbers were better than most had expected, and that had investors feeling more excited about the prospects for the company remaining independent, even as some still believe a takeover might be possible in the future.

Several sets of surgical tables, monitors, and other equipment in a large medical room.

Image source: NuVasive.

A nice recovery for NuVasive

NuVasive's first-quarter results got the year off to a good start, showing improvement from the company's performance in recent quarters. Revenue of $274.8 million rose 5.5% from year-ago levels, comparing favorably to expectations among those following the stock for about 3% top-line growth. Similarly, NuVasive saw adjusted net income rise to $27.6 million, up 34% from year-ago levels, and that produced adjusted earnings of $0.53 per share that easily topped the consensus forecast among investors for just $0.41 per share.

NuVasive's segment results showed that the company got its best results from international markets. Outside the U.S., revenue jumped almost 11%, making up roughly a fifth of the company's overall sales. Slower growth prevailed in the domestic markets, however, with U.S. spinal-hardware revenue rising 4.5% from year-ago levels and surgical-support sales bringing up the rear at a growth rate of 3.7%.

One promising development came from the expense side of the income statement. Margin figures improved considerably for NuVasive. Gross margin picked up more than a percentage point, to 72.9%, and adjusted operating margin figures were higher by nearly 2.5 percentage points, to 14.9%. Substantial declines in operating costs played a key role in boosting NuVasive's bottom line.

CEO Chris Barry was happy with how the company did. "NuVasive delivered a solid start to the year," Barry said, "with focused execution across our U.S. spinal hardware, U.S. surgical support, and international businesses." The CEO also pointed to its disciplined operational approach toward investment decisions that capture higher-growth opportunities.

Can NuVasive keep up the pace?

NuVasive has identified several specific areas in which it can make further advances. Barry pointed to the recently launched lateral single-position surgery system, dubbed X360, that integrates traditional functions with NuVasive's proprietary surgical intelligence capabilities. Also, fleshing out the advantages of its portfolio of advanced materials science products is a potential gateway to further growth, and NuVasive looks forward to the launch of its Pulse surgical-automation platform to help provide even better minimally invasive surgical options to medical professionals.

For the most part, NuVasive reiterated the full-year 2019 guidance that it gave three months ago. The company still sees revenue for the year of around $1.14 billion to $1.16 billion and adjusted earnings should still finish between $2.20 and $2.30 per share. Some changes to the GAAP numbers reflected higher business transition costs than initially expected, but they didn't have any impact on the adjusted numbers.

NuVasive shareholders didn't seem to have any strong responses to the report, and the stock eased lower by a fraction of a percent in after-hours trading following the announcement. Yet if the company can stay on its current trajectory, NuVasive could see healthy conditions continue further into 2019 and beyond.