GPs in Warwickshire have been told not to refer patients for routine hip and knee operations until April 2011.
NHS Warwickshire said it needed to suspend some operations as orthopaedic referrals had risen by almost a third.
Dr John Linanne, director of public health for NHS Warwickshire, said if that increase continued, it would be in "a very difficult position".
Patients in pain or needing essential help will still be operated on. Other affected areas will be revealed later.
GPs have been contacted this week informing them about the new guidance.
Dr Linanne said that although not every referral led to an operation, it could mean "multiple" out-patient appointments which he described as "our other inefficiency".
He said another concern was having enough capacity for when winter arrived as older patients arrive at A&E with injuries after a fall and often need to be admitted to the orthapaedic department.
"We're also concerned about how we have capacity with the winter and the pressures it brings," he said.
Feedback from patients showed not everyone felt better after their operation, with one in 10 saying their hip operation made no difference to their general health and one in four said the same about knee operations, he said.
"So what we're doing, essentially, is having a pause," he said.
He admitted it was difficult for GPs to decide on referrals as it was a "judgement call".
But by working with GPs and hospital consultants they can establish which patients will benefit best and make procedures both "clinical as well as cost effective."