A pilot project involving 53 practices in Wolverhampton cut the number of GP referrals to stretched physiotherapy services by a third and halved waiting times.
The pilot was launched after an audit found 17% of patients failed to attend their physiotherapist appointment because their symptoms had cleared up within four to six weeks.
Local physiotherapy services had seen an 'exponential' increase in referrals between 2010 and 2011. Waiting times rose to 15 weeks during this period.
In the pilot, GPs offered patients presenting with back, foot, knee, neck or shoulder pain, carpal tunnel syndrome or tennis elbow, one of seven educational pamphlets produced by NHS Wolverhampton City working with Arthritis Research UK.
These encouraged patients to follow four simple exercises as an alternative to being referred to a physiotherapist.
In response, physiotherapy waiting times fell from 15 to eight weeks. Referrals to physiotherapy fell from a peak of 362 per month in October 2011 to 240 per month in January 2012.
Patients welcomed the pamphlets as descriptive, helpful and succinct.
Wolverhampton GP Dr Kamran Ahmed, who led the project, said: 'We reviewed all of the patient information available and found that although there was a lot, it was not always accessible. It was frustrating as it's important to have access to effective and good quality educational information to help patients manage their condition themselves.
'The new pamphlets were easy for GPs to use and the concise information seemed to motivate patients,' he added.
Since the pilot ended, physiotherapy waiting times have continued to fall.