Orthopedic implant and medical equipment maker Stryker (NYSE:SYK) has a remarkable habit of hitting 20% or better earnings growth. Aside from a couple stretches that only lasted a couple years each, that earnings growth has translated into steady stock price appreciation as well. Although the bad news is that Stryker is now in one of those dry patches, the good news is that this too shall pass and the company will still be one of the great med-tech operators in the market.

In Stryker's third quarter, sales climbed more than 13% on a constant currency basis. After adjusting for some items, operating margin improved a bit and operating income grew 19%. Turning to the net income line -- surprise, surprise -- net income growth exceeded 20% (20.9%, to be precise).

Orthopedic implant sales were a bit sluggish again this quarter, as the unit as a whole grew more than 10%. Hip sales were pretty weak, up just 2%, and knee sales most likely lagged the market at 12%. Outside of implants, the picture was brighter as MedSurg equipment sales grew more than 20% on broad strength in instruments, endoscopy, and medical products.

Whether or not the industrywide fears of price contraction and more concentrated buying (that is, buying from a smaller group of suppliers) prove true, Stryker's best chance of continuing that 20% growth pace likely comes outside of the traditional hip and knee business. MedSurg is obviously a valuable contributor to growth, but so too could be research projects like artificial spinal disks and OP-1.

OP-1 (osteogenic protein-1) is a bone growth factor that helps induce the formation of new bone, a valuable thing for procedures like spinal fusion. Nevertheless, development has proven a bit tricky, and it feels to me like this product has been talked about pretty much since the time I was a neophyte intern on Wall Street. At long last, though, it may become reality as the company hopes to file with the Food and Drug Administration early next year.

That sterling record of 20% growth is a hallmark of Stryker and certainly sets it apart from rivals like Biomet (NASDAQ:BMET) and Zimmer (NYSE:ZMH) in some investors' minds. Laudable as it is, I wonder how long it will prove to be practical. After all, we all know what happens when companies try to hold employees to unreasonable or unattainable growth targets.

That concern aside, I still like this company quite a lot. It does appear that we're in a dry patch for orthopedic companies and that might mean it's best to stay away for now and let the dust settle. But over the long haul, I still believe this is a very attractive medical technology company, and once this pause is over, I would expect it to resume its historical march up the charts.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).